Trends in conceptions before and after the 1995 pill scare

Popul Trends. 1997 Autumn:(89):5-12.


On 18 October 1995, the Committee on Safety of Medicines issued a warning that seven brands of the contraceptive pill (containing 'new generation' progestogens) carried a relatively higher risk of thrombosis (the formation of a blood clot in a vein). This warning received much attention from the media. Family planning services and others working in public health raised concerns that the pill scare would result in an increase in unplanned pregnancies. This article uses national conception statistics to show trends before and after October 1995.

PIP: In October 1995, the UK Committee on Safety of Medicines issued a warning that third-generation oral contraceptives (OCs) containing the progestins desogestrel and gestodene may be associated with an increased risk of venous thrombosis. Family planning services expressed concerns that this "pill scare" would result in increased numbers of unplanned pregnancies and induced abortions. This concern was evaluated through use of data from England and Wales for the three quarters following the warning (October-December 1995, January-March 1996, and April-June 1996). Conception rates increased by 1% in the last quarter of 1995 and by 7% and 4%, respectively, in the first two quarters of 1996, compared with the same quarters a year earlier. Actual conception rates in these three quarters were 2%, 7%, and 6% higher, respectively, than expected rates. Abortion rates were 3% higher than expected in the quarter ending December 1995, 13% higher in the March 1996 quarter, and 10% higher than expected in the June 1996 quarter. About two-thirds of the excess in abortions were to women in their teens and early 20s, while the majority of excess deliveries involved older women in their late 20s and early 30s. Since the rise in conception rates coincided with the timing of the announcement about the safety of OCs, it seems probable that the "pill scare" had the expected upward effect on conceptions.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Induced / statistics & numerical data
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Contraceptives, Oral / adverse effects*
  • Family Planning Services / trends*
  • Female
  • Fertilization*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Thrombophlebitis / etiology
  • United Kingdom


  • Contraceptives, Oral