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Emergency contraception has a 98 percent success rate in preventing pregnancies and the potential of greatly reducing, if not eliminating, unwanted births and abortions.

This news, from recent studies of newly developed emergency contraception drugs, is welcome in a world that recently witnessed the birth of its 6 billionth baby.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Alan Guttmacher Institute, there are an estimated 2.7 million unintended pregnancies each year in this country and 1.3 million abortions are performed. But for women in the United States, one of the most advanced countries on this overpopulated globe, the pills to prevent this are not as accessible as any prescription drug should be.

Emergency contraception, using regular birth control pills, has been available for a couple of decades, but few doctors prescribed it and few women knew that a multiple dose of their pills, taken within 24 hours of unprotected intercourse, reduced the risk of pregnancy.

Until a year ago, when the Food and Drug Administration approved the marketing of Preven, a concoction of pills designed for those circumstances when a couple's normal precautions either are ignored or have failed, emergency contraception was seen as a well-kept secret. Since then, public awareness has increased.

According to the Pro-Choice Network of Western New York, 1.3 million pre-packaged Preven kits were sold within three months of the FDA action.

Since then, the FDA has approved a new designer pill, Plan B, which is said to have fewer side effects than Preven, a variation of the estrogen-laden birth control pill formula.

Despite evidence of their popularity, distribution of Preven and its copycats has run into a roadblock that threatens the availability of all birth control pills and devices and maybe even the use of unrelated drugs and medical devices that some group may find objectionable.

Pro-Choice Network says that a pro-life pharmacy group, Pharmacists for Life International, has a legislative agenda to legitimize druggists' right to refuse to fill prescriptions for emergency contraception kits and/or birth control pills. The network also notes that mainstream organizations, such as the American Pharmaceutical Association, are upholding pharmacists who refuse to dispense medications on moral grounds.

As the local reproductive rights network points out, timing is critical in emergency use, and allowing a pharmacist to refuse to fill a prescription and instead refer customers to other sources places an intolerable burden on the consumer.

Where is the rural woman to go in a one-drugstore town? asks an article in the current network newsletter. And how many options do HMO clients have, as managed care providers narrow choices of drug dispensers?

Wal-Mart, which often becomes the only game in town in rural areas after crowding out the competition, has decreed that it will not permit the sale of Preven kits.

The company will, however, refer a customer to another store, which might be 50 miles away. Because Wal-Mart is the nation's second-largest drug distributor, referral may become a big business for this holier-than-thou company.

Emergency contraceptives prevent pregnancy, they don't terminate it, but pro-choice advocates long have warned that right-to-life activists oppose contraceptives as strongly as they object to abortion.

The campaign against emergency contraceptives confirms fears that women's legal and moral right to control their reproduction is rooted in very shaky and shallow ground.

A workshop for women on financial planning will be offered through the Expressly for Women program at Sisters Hospital beginning Sept. 23. Christine Mathieu-Stahlka, a financial planner at MONY Group, will conduct the workshop, "Taking Control."

The first session will deal with cash management, risk-taking and investment strategies. On Sept. 30, the program will be on financial aid for college, and the final session Oct. 7 will focus on retirement planning.

Sessions will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., and there is a $10 fee. Call Ms. Mathieu-Stahlka at 630-0204.

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