A new contraceptive is expected to be available in the United States beginning in February, giving women their first major new option in decades, the manufacturer says.

Norplant consists of six matchstick-size silicone rubber capsules that are implanted in a minor surgical procedure under the skin of a woman's upper arm. For five years, the capsules release a hormone to prevent pregnancy, but they can be removed - and fertility restored - at any time.The Food and Drug Administration is expected to approve the contraceptive within days.

"It offers them a new choice which is long-lasting and convenient, uses the lowest dose of hormone that's used in any (hormone-based method) and it doesn't contain estrogen," said C. Wayne Bardin, vice president and director of research for the New York-based Population Council.

The council began researching the method in 1966. Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories of Philadelphia will market the contraceptive.