When the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made an unprecedented announcement in July that, absent standard FDA-approval procedures, oral contraceptive pills in high doses are safe and effective for emergency contraception -- the so-called morning-after pill -- it was giving its imprimatur to a well-established use (T. Lewin, New York Times, July 1, 1996, page A1).

An Institute of Medicine (IOM) report released in May (P.F. Harrison, A. Rosenfield, eds., Contraceptive Research and Development: Looking to the Future, Washington, D.C., National Academy Press, 1996) states that both combined estrogen/progestin and progestin-only pills are used as emergency contraceptives up to 72 hours post-coitus. The report also notes that mifepristone (RU 486) dosage and insertion of a copper-T intrauterine device (IUD) are given for emergency contraceptive use.

However, success rates for these treatments are markedly low, ranging from about 1 percent for both mifepristone and the IUD to...

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