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Open Access Research article

Women and postfertilization effects of birth control: consistency of beliefs, intentions and reported use

Huong M Dye, Joseph B Stanford1*, Stephen C Alder1, Han S Kim1 and Patricia A Murphy2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, University of Utah School of Medicine, Salt Lake City, UT, USA

2 College of Nursing, University of Utah School of Medicine, Salt Lake City, UT, USA

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BMC Women's Health 2005, 5:11  doi:10.1186/1472-6874-5-11

Published: 28 November 2005

Abstract

Background

This study assesses the consistency of responses among women regarding their beliefs about the mechanisms of actions of birth control methods, beliefs about when human life begins, the intention to use or not use birth control methods that they believe may act after fertilization or implantation, and their reported use of specific methods.

Methods

A questionnaire was administered in family practice and obstetrics and gynecology clinics in Salt Lake City, Utah, and Tulsa, Oklahoma. Participants included women ages 18–50 presenting for any reason and women under age 18 presenting for family planning or pregnancy care. Analyses were based on key questions addressing beliefs about whether specific birth control methods may act after fertilization, beliefs about when human life begins, intention to use a method that may act after fertilization, and reported use of specific methods. The questionnaire contained no information about the mechanism of action of any method of birth control. Responses were considered inconsistent if actual use contradicted intentions, if one intention contradicted another, or if intentions contradicted beliefs.

Results

Of all respondents, 38% gave consistent responses about intention to not use or to stop use of any birth control method that acted after fertilization, while 4% gave inconsistent responses. The corresponding percentages for birth control methods that work after implantation were 64% consistent and 2% inconsistent. Of all respondents, 34% reported they believed that life begins at fertilization and would not use any birth control method that acts after fertilization (a consistent response), while 3% reported they believed that life begins at fertilization but would use a birth control method that acts after fertilization (inconsistent). For specific methods of birth control, less than 1% of women gave inconsistent responses. A majority of women (68% or greater) responded accurately about the mechanism of action of condoms, abstinence, sterilization, and abortion, but a substantial percentage of women (between 19% and 57%) were uncertain about the mechanisms of action of oral contraceptives, intrauterine devices (IUDs), Depo-Provera, or natural family planning.

Conclusion

Women who believe that life begins at fertilization may not intend to use a birth control method that could have postfertilization effects. More research is needed to understand the relative importance of postfertilization effects for women in other populations, and in relation to other properties of and priorities for birth control methods. However, many women were uncertain about the mechanisms of action of specific methods. To respect the principles of informed consent, some women may need more education about what is known and not known about the mechanisms of action of birth control methods.