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BACKGROUND. More widespread use of emergency contraception could help to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies. AIM. The objective of this study was to assess women's knowledge of emergency contraception. METHOD. A questionnaire was distributed to 1290 women aged between 16 and 50 years attending 14 general practice surgeries in London over a two-week period in 1990. RESULTS. The response rate was 70%. Over three quarters of the women had heard of emergency contraception; these were mainly women who used contraception, who had higher educational qualifications or who were not Muslim. Women who were the most likely to need and to use emergency contraception--those using barrier methods--had no more accurate knowledge than women using any other method of contraception. Only 53% of barrier method users knew emergency contraception could be used as a backup when other methods failed. Only one fifth of women had heard about this method from their general practitioner or any other health professional, while half had obtained their information from the media. CONCLUSION. These results suggest that including information on emergency contraception in consultations with users of barrier methods of contraception is a small step which general practitioners and practice nurses could take to increase the use of emergency contraception.