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Objective: To assess whether advance provision of emergency contraception increases its use and whether it has secondary effects on regular contraceptive use.

Methods: We conducted a controlled trial of female clients, aged 16-24 years, who attended a publicly funded family planning clinic. Women were systematically assigned to receive an advance provision of emergency contraception and education (treatment) or education only (control). Among 263 participants enrolled (133 treatment, 130 control), follow-up was completed in 213 (111 treatment, 102 control). The main outcome measures were emergency contraception knowledge and use, frequency of unprotected sex, and pattern of contraceptive use in the past 4 months.

Results: Participants were aware of emergency contraception at follow-up, but the treatment group was three times as likely to use it (P = .006). Although the treatment group did not report higher frequencies of unprotected sex than the control group, women in the treatment group (28%) were more likely than those in the control group (17%) to report using less effective contraception at follow-up compared with enrollment (P = .05). The proportion of women in both groups who reported consistent pill use increased from enrollment to follow-up (34% versus 45%); however, the control group (58%) was more likely than the treatment group (32%) to report consistent pill use at follow-up (P = .03).

Conclusion: Use of emergency contraception was increased by providing it in advance, but not by education alone. Changes to less effective contraceptive methods and patterns of pill use were potentially negative effects that need to be explored in relation to observed benefits.

(C) 2000 The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists