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Back Up Your Birth Control Day of Action: Time to Close the Gap on EC Access

05/24/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Stories of our neighbors' lack of access to health care--ranging from a friend denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition to a relative who could no longer afford the costs of insurance--have dominated the news recently, giving many of us pause.

We at the National Institute for Reproductive Health, however, are no strangers to the realities of gaps in access to the health care system. This year on the Back Up Your Birth Control Day of Action, we are calling on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to finally close one such gap by making emergency contraception (EC), the safe and effective back up birth control method that can help prevent pregnancy up to five days after unprotected sex, available without a prescription for consumers of all ages so that all women can back up their birth control if they need to.

In the current 'dual-label environment,' EC is available over-the-counter for women and men age17 and older, but for women under 17, it's still available by prescription only. Considering both the high rates of teen pregnancy and the lack of any medical rationale for age restrictions on emergency contraception, it just does not make sense to keep these age restrictions in place. A March 2009 U.S. District court decision urged the FDA to re-review the evidence for over-the-counter access to anyone at risk of unintended pregnancy. If the FDA complies with this decision, the burdensome requirement to present a government-issued form of identification in order to buy EC over-the-counter would be removed. This would close the gap in timely access to EC for undocumented women and teens without government issued identification.

Another gap in EC access is created by the cost, which prevents many women from obtaining EC. A pack of EC can cost $35-70 at the pharmacy so it is vital that states include coverage for over-the-counter EC in their Medicaid plans so that all women can have equal access to this safe and effective back up method of birth control. Low-income women, college students, and immigrant women who often have the hardest time obtaining health coverage should not be denied timely and affordable access to EC.

Today on street corners and in subway stops, classrooms, and community centers you might see an image of Rosie the Riveter with an "EC" proudly displayed on her bicep. Pro-choice activists, students, bloggers, healthcare providers, and local community leaders across the country are taking the time today to start a discussion in their communities about emergency contraception for the ninth annual Back Up Your Birth Control Day of Action. Rosie will be on each postcard and flyer they distribute as a symbol of the vigor of this movement that seeks to give women full control of their reproductive health choices.

The nationwide Back Up Your Birth Control campaign, which is led by the National Institute for Reproductive Health and culminates each year in a Day of Action, aims to raise awareness about and expand access to emergency contraception. The goal of holding the Day of Action on this spring day in March, which coincides with Spring Break on many campuses, is to encourage awareness about EC and to draw attention to the barriers to access that many women still face.

The final healthcare reform bill passed this week expands health insurance coverage for hundreds of thousands of Americans, but it has also placed unfortunate restrictions on women's access to abortion care. Those who have worked so hard for reform must not forget that women's health and reproductive choice, from access to abortion to access to emergency contraception, must be incorporated into the spectrum of changes to be demanded. The fight will not be over until all health care is accessible and affordable for everyone. Today's Back Up Your Birth Control Day of Action provides an excellent opportunity for activists across the country to join in that fight.

Look out for Rosie in your neighborhood, and visit www.BackUpYourBirthControl.org for ways to join in the action. To join us in calling on the FDA and the White House to end unnecessary age restrictions on EC, click here http://www.change.org/actions/view/tell_the_fda_to_end_unnecessary_age_restrictions_on_emergency_contraception)