Knowledge of emergency contraception among women aged 18 to 44 in California

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The State of California has taken several steps to make emergency contraceptives (ECs) available to women in the state. By using data from the 1999–2001 California Women's Health Survey, we estimated the knowledge of emergency contraception among adult women of reproductive age at risk of pregnancy (n = 6209).

Study design

This study is based on 3 years of data (1999–2001) from the California Women's Health Survey (CWHS), an annual population-based survey of more than 4000 randomly selected adult women (aged 18 years and older) in California. A total of 6198 women aged 18 to 44 responded to the 2 emergency contraception questions: “To the best of your knowledge, if a woman has unprotected sex is there anything she can do in the 3 days after intercourse that will prevent pregnancy?” and “What can she do?”


We find that 38% of California women were able to correctly identify emergency contraception. Most importantly, the women who are most likely to need emergency contraception—those who are at risk of an unintended pregnancy but not using any method of contraception—have among the lowest levels of knowledge (only 29% identified a method of ECs).


Results show that family planning providers may be reaching their clients, but broader outreach to the public has not yet achieved sufficiently high information levels among women in greatest need of the method.

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