By Brontë H. Lacsamana 

EMERGENCY CONTRACEPTIVE (EC) pills, also known as morning-after pills, are a means of contraception known to only 1 out of 4 Filipino women, showing a lack of awareness about birth control, according to a nationwide study by the DKT Philippines Foundation. 

Meanwhile, only 13% of respondents were familiar with the Yuzpe method — the alternative to EC pills in the Philippines — which is the intake of a large dose of combined oral contraceptives within 72 to 120 hours after unprotected sex.  

Of the 500 unmarried, sexually active women aged 18 to 29 surveyed by the nongovernment organization in June, 68% had experienced unprotected sex, with 94% of them sharing that they were in a negative emotional state afterwards. 

“The women said most of the sexual encounters were unplanned or spontaneous,” said Hyam Asher Bolande, chairman of DKT Philippines Foundation, during the Nov. 24 launch of the study’s findings. “In some cases, both partners were intoxicated.” 

The most common negative emotions associated with unprotected sex were fear of getting pregnant (83%), symptoms of anxiety (20%), and guilt (15%). 

In the Philippines, addressing the rise in teen pregnancy was declared a national priority in June, with the Philippine Statistics Authority reporting a total of 180,916 live births in 2019 among adolescents aged 10–19. This amounts to 495 live births per day. 

ECs, which are taken after the fact, fill the need of those who have infrequent and/or unexpected sex. This is often the case for young people who are just beginning the sexually active period of their life, said Mr. Bolande. 

“EC pills can provide a last line of safe defense against unwanted pregnancy when the male partner doesn’t use a condom,” he added. 

In 2001, the Philippines approved the EC pill Postinor for importation and sale in the country, but the Bureau of Food and Drugs later canceled its approval. The reason stated was its “abortifacient effect” — meaning it causes abortion. 

“Medical researchers worldwide have concluded by consensus that EC is contraception, not abortion,” said Mr. Bolande. “No significant debate on the question exists in the field of obstetric science.” 

He cited the World Health Organization’s fact sheet on the topic, which states that “emergency contraceptive pills prevent pregnancy by preventing or delaying ovulation and they do not induce an abortion,” with scientific studies showing that human conception occurs 5 to 10 days after unprotected intercourse.  

Dr. Carmi Camagong-Herradura, DKT Philippines officer for medical affairs, said that while the Department of Health approved the Yuzpe method, with teenage girls able to get a prescription for it with parental or guardian consent, having access to EC pills is better. 

“What we have here in the Philippines now is the Yuzpe method, which is to combine oral contraceptive pills available in our local drugstore, but the problem with taking enlarged doses of pills [is] they experience side effects,” she explained. “If that EC pill will be readily available, we can avoid these kinds of experiences and side effects.” 

Aside from advocating for the approval of EC pills in the country, the foundation also reaffirmed their dedication to better educate Filipinos on reproductive health. 

Loida M. Almendares, head of programs of DKT Philippines, said: “We have our key opinion leaders and we can say that, together, we are conceptualizing strategies on how to disseminate this information to help prevent unintended pregnancy in the Philippines, especially in adolescents or young girls.” 

“If the adolescents and the parents know that this was an option, they are much more likely to seek help to prevent their pregnancy when it happens,” Mr. Bolande said. 

In a follow-up online survey conducted by the Foundation, nearly one-third (32%) of Filipino doctors and midwives active in family planning said they weren’t aware of the Yuzpe Method. In that same informal survey in October, however, 85% of the healthcare providers reported fielding patient inquiries about emergency contraception.