Is the Pill "outdated"?

A lead reproductive health researcher says hormonal birth control pills don't "work well enough."

By Tracy Clark-Flory
Published June 27, 2008 9:30AM (EDT)

The birth control pill is kind of like those shoulder pads hiding in the bottom of your sock drawer: totally old school. At least that's according to James Trussell, Princeton's director of the Office of Population Research. Speaking at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service conference on Thursday, he said that "the Pill is an outdated method" that simply "does not work well enough."

What's wrong with the traditional birth control pill, you ask? Studies show that one in 12 women on the pill become pregnant because they've missed pills. Trussell, who has done extensive research on contraceptive failure, said: "It is very difficult for ordinary women to take a pill every day." (I might offer that I've never found it very difficult, but studies also show that women miss three times as many pills as they say they do.) Even an increase in the availability of the morning-after pill wouldn't significantly reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies, he said: "Emergency contraception will have no major impact as long as unprotected intercourse remains prevalent." Trussell, who launched the morning-after pill Web site and its accompanying toll-free hotline, said women cannot be expected to take emergency contraception every time that they have unprotected sex. He said the only thing that will make a serious dent in unplanned pregnancies are so-called fit-and-forget methods of birth control, like implants and intrauterine devices.

With the pragmatism of someone who has produced more than 200 scientific publications on reproductive health, Trussell concluded: "There is no magic bullet and there will always be a group of women and men who have unprotected sex and where contraceptive methods fail."

Tracy Clark-Flory

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