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Adolescent health, Adolescent Pregnancy, Contraception, Emergency contraception



  1. Lindberg, Claire E. PhD, RN


Adolescent pregnancy remains a significant problem in the United States today, despite availability of effective contraceptive methods. Not all sexually active adolescents use contraception, and even those who do use contraception sometimes use it incorrectly. Emergency contraception, which refers to methods of pregnancy prevention used after unprotected intercourse, has the potential to prevent most unplanned adolescent pregnancies. Emergency contraceptive pills (ECP) containing estrogen and progestin or progestin alone are more than 75% effective when the first dose is taken within 72 hours after unprotected sex and the second dose is taken 12 hours later. However, barriers to accessing ECPs include lack of knowledge of the method, fear of loss of privacy, difficulties in finding a provider, and cost. Another barrier is that controversy exists about the mechanisms of action of emergency contraception about its role in pregnancy prevention. As a result, some nurses are not comfortable with suggesting emergency contraception to their patients.


Nurses can play a critical role in providing ECPs to adolescents by developing programs to streamline distribution of ECPs, while maintaining adolescent privacy. Other essential roles for nurses include providing education about ECPs to parents, other healthcare providers and community members, and advocating for political and legal changes that will ease restrictions on ECP distribution. Nurses who are personally uncomfortable discussing emergency contraception can refer their patients to other providers for information and access to this method.