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Knowledge, Attitudes, and Beliefs About Emergency Contraception: A Survey of Female Adolescents Seeking Care in the Emergency Department

Mollen, Cynthia J. MD, MSCE*†; Miller, Melissa K. MD; Hayes, Katie L. BS*; Barg, Frances K. PhD, MEd§

doi: 10.1097/PEC.0b013e31828a3249
Original Articles

Objectives This study aimed to assess urban adolescents’ knowledge of and attitudes about emergency contraception (EC) and to assess the intention to use EC in particular hypothetical situations. We hypothesized that knowledge about EC would be limited, but that adolescents would support using EC in certain situations.

Methods A cross-sectional survey of English-speaking, 14- to 19-year-old adolescent girls presenting for care at 2 urban pediatric emergency departments. The survey was based on previous research with this target population and the constructs of the theory of planned behavior.

Results We enrolled 223 adolescents; 56% reported a history of sexual activity. Sixty-four percent stated that they had heard of EC. Participants with a history of sexual activity were more likely to have heard of EC compared with those without (odds ratio, 2.6; 95% confidence interval, 1.4–4.7), as were those 17 years and older (odds ratio, 2.3; 95% confidence interval, 1.2–4.3). The majority of participants were concerned about potential short-term and long-term adverse effects (86% and 78%, respectively); many participants were concerned about the cost of EC (45%) and about being able to get to a doctor for a prescription (45%). Participants supported using EC in the following situations: rape (88%), the condom breaks (82%), or no birth control was used (76%). Fewer supported using EC in the following situations: missed 1 oral contraceptive pill (51%) or first sexual experience (57%).

Conclusions Participants indicated that although they would support EC use in several situations, they have concerns about EC use and access. Awareness of these factors and potential influences of EC use can guide providers toward effective counseling and interventions aimed to increase adolescents’ use of EC in appropriate settings.

From the *Division of Emergency Medicine, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; †Department of Pediatrics, The University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA; ‡Division of Emergency Medical Services, Children’s Mercy Hospital, Kansas City, MO; and §Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, The University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA.

Disclosure: The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Reprints: Cynthia J. Mollen, MD, MSCE, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, 3501 Civic Center Blvd, Emergency Department—CTRB 9th Floor, Philadelphia, PA 19104 (e-mail:

This project was supported by funds from the Nicolas Crognale Chair of Emergency Medicine at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

This study was presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies Annual Meeting, May 2010, Vancouver, Canada (poster).

© 2013 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.