The day after Thanksgiving, I sat holding my friend's four-month-old baby as we talked about birth control--mine, hers, and the political landscape around preventing pregnancy. She started to tell me how her views on the topic had changed, and I felt sure she was going to say that her pro-choice passion had changed since she'd become a mom. It had, but not in the way I expected. "I'm even more pro-choice now. I can't imagine forcing anyone to go through all you have to go through when you're pregnant if they didn't really want to do it." Funnily enough, the more I hear my biological clock ticking, the more I care about women's access to reliable information and contraception, including the recently FDA-approved morning after pill, marketed by Barr Pharmaceuticals under the name Plan B.
Most recent news articles have made sure to harp on the controversy surrounding the pill, one fomented by anti-abortion activists who wrongly see the pill as an abortifacient, even labeling it as such in their "news" reports. This supposed controversy was enough to delay the pill's entrance onto the market until 2006, held up despite the recommendations of the FDA's own advisory panels.
Plan B should currently be available at drugstores nationwide to customers 18 and older (though it appears to slowly be making its way throughout the country), but there still needs to be more awareness about how to purchase it, in addition to legal protections in place ensuring that pharmacists do their jobs and give the pill to women over 18 who request it. According to the Washington Post, CVS, Rite-Aid and Walgreen's have pledged "to ensure that customers can buy Plan B onsite even if a given employee declines to provide service for reasons of conscience." Last year, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney introduced the Access to Legal Pharmaceuticals Act, H.R. 1652, "to establish certain duties for pharmacies when pharmacists employed by the pharmacies refuse to fill valid prescriptions for drugs or devices on the basis of personal beliefs, or for other purposes."
I had scoped out several local New York City pharmacies, expecting to see it out on the shelves (misled, perhaps, by the term "over the counter"). But after scouring the condom sections and the pregnancy test sections to no avail, I learned that customers will have to ask for Plan B and show ID proving they are over 18. Those under 18 will still have to get a doctor's prescription, though a pending lawsuit, Tummino v. Crawford, seeks to overturn this and provide women under 18 with the opportunity to purchase the drug without going to a doctor.
However, for those who suspect they may need it, Plan B can also be purchased at local drugstores as well as online at Drugstore.com if you'd like to stock up on it. According to Planned Parenthood, "EC should be in every woman's medicine cabinet. It is an important tool for women to prevent unintended pregnancy and the need for abortion. EC was responsible for approximately 43 percent of the decrease in the number of abortions from 1994 to 2000." Men can also purchase the pill if they are over 18. Yesterday, December 6th, in what the organization declared "Free EC Day." 350 PP affiliates in 34 states held free Plan B giveaways to raise awareness of the drug's availability and offer it to women who might need it (or think they might need it in the future).
The time has come (and is actually long overdue) for women to not have to worry, panic, and risk harm to themselves after unprotected intercourse, no matter what the reason behind it. In February of this year, I went to a local medical clinic to obtain Plan B. I didn't do it during that crucial first day (the drug is 95% effective in preventing pregnancy if taken within 24 hours of unprotected sex, and decreases over the next four days, with 72 hours being the generally accepted standard for when the pill should be taken) because I was able to convince myself that there was little to no chance I could've become pregnant; I'd engaged in unprotected sex with a man, but he did not ejaculate inside me. By the second day, though, my naturally worrisome nature and paranoia had gotten the better of me and I went to the clinic. I was already nervous, but found the procedure fairly simple; I was given a pregnancy test, asked about the time of intercourse, and then given a prescription, which I filled at one of the few pharmacies in New York City open late in the evening. Even though the chances of my being pregnant were slim, being able to ensure I did not become pregnant was a huge relief.
In England, the morning after pill is not allowed to be prescribed unless the patient has just had unprotected sex; women cannot stock up on it in case of an emergency (such as a condom breaking), they must wait until there's a limited window of time after such an incident, meaning that women will not have access to the pill, whose effects diminish over time, as quickly as they might were it available in advance. One advantage of the pill's new non-prescription status in the U.S. is that women (or men) can stock up on it in case there is a true emergency.
The opponents of the morning after pill have proven their true colors when it comes to preventing abortions. These are the very same people who are fighting against contraception. I recently came across Noroomforcontraception.com, a site whose tagline is "always room for love," which "is an effort to expose the potential harms that contraception, birth control and sterilization bring to marriage and society." In their oh-so-helpful FAQ, they claim that "sex entails bonding and babies." With attitudes like these being promulgated, especially to the ears of the Administration, is it any wonder that Plan B was stalled for so long, a process documented by Cristina Page in her detailed book How The Pro-Choice Movement Saved America? Despite the very clear benefits to those on both sides of the abortion debate of preventing unwanted pregnancies and their aftermaths, some people still oppose this simple, basic measure.
The fight for our full reproductive rights is far from over. We must remain vigilant about ensuring access to Plan B, birth control, and abortion. Those who lobby against Plan B are effectively saying that all heterosexual sex should be procreative, and if it's not, you're doing something wrong. For anyone who believes otherwise, the prolonged battle for Plan B is one you should care about.