Emergency contraception odds shift in women’s favor

Just last week we were shaking our heads in frustration and wondering what the deal was with the government, the courts and emergency contraception.

We wrote a whole post about how disappointed and confused we were that restrictions continued on emergency contraceptive access.

We even created a set of graphics to display the “games” we saw being played with emergency contraceptives – and how women were clearly set up to constantly lose.

ImageImageImageImageImageImageBut this week, (we think partially in response to our clever graphics, of course) the Obama administration decided to stop blocking the over-the-counter sale of emergency contraceptives to women and girls. This means that the Food and Drug Administration will comply with Judge Edward Korman’s ruling that emergency contraceptives be accessible without a prescription and without age restrictions or proof of age.

Plan B One Step will now be available over-the-counter without age restrictions, and its generic counterparts are likely to apply for the same approval. Two-pill forms of emergency contraceptives will still fall under restrictions, due to concerns that young girls might struggle to understand dosage directions.

The access rules to emergency contraceptives haven’t necessarily simplified, then, but we are hopeful that now women and girls are more likely to succeed in obtaining emergency contraceptives when they need them.

**In South Dakota all of this could make no difference if your pharmacist refuses to distribute emergency contraception, which they can do under current state law.

For help dealing with this, look for a copy of our recently updated Emergency Contraception Pamphlet for information on which pharmacies do carry emergency contraception in the state. Or request one by emailing us at jenny@prochoicesd.org.

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Could birth control be down aisle 5?

A federal judge – Judge Korman – made a ruling last month that called on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to make emergency contraceptives available over the counter with no age restrictions. But so far the Department of Health and Human Services and the FDA have only partially implemented this ruling – pharmacies may now sell emergency contraceptives without a prescription to women as young as 15 years old, but only if they can prove their age.

And as you read that you’re thinking, “Well, proving your age is easy, right?” Think again – because for some women it’s not.

PlanB_One-Step_photo_0907“This compromise doesn’t address the reality that not every woman has a photo ID – especially women in urban areas who may not drive and women age 15 and 16,” the President of NARAL Pro-Choice America Ilyse Hogue said about the decision.

While some 15-year-olds might have a learner’s permit already, there are 16 states that limit learning permits to those older than 15. Without a driver’s license or learner’s permit, women can use either a passport or birth certificate to verify their age. However, for young women still living at home, it is likely that these important documents are filed away in a desk or fire-safe box – which may or may not be locked or easily accessible. So this lowering of the age restriction to 15 for over-the-counter access to emergency contraceptives becomes only as helpful as the reality of the access.

All the while, the clock is ticking on the 72 hours or less that it takes in order for Plan B to be effective. There just isn’t enough time to scramble for any of these documents.

The Administration’s challenges, previously to the FDA and now to a federal judge, are simply putting politics over science. Their hesitation to implement these rulings is seemingly based in discomfort – an unwillingness to acknowledge that teenage girls as young as 15 years old might be having sexual experiences. Similarly, making contraceptives accessible over the counter would relinquish a level of control and familiarity that they’re using as a crutch.

We need to protect the rights of young women to access emergency contraceptives so that they don’t end up with unintended pregnancies at ages when they have barely grown up themselves.  It’s simple, the proof-of-age requirement leaves in place barriers that still restrict women. It robs them of bodily autonomy. It sets a standard that sexual behavior is worthy of punishment or, at the very least, the loss of dignity.

But even if the proof-of-age restriction was eliminated, the question remains of why Plan B, along with other forms of contraceptives, shouldn’t be available as over-the-counter drugs to women and girls of all ages. The reality is that there is no reason why they shouldn’t be over-the-counter, readily available drugs.

In 2011 the FDA determined that, based on scientific evidence, that morning-after pills were safe for “all females of child-bearing potential.” And last December the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists deemed that it was time to make non-emergency birth-control pills readily available on pharmacy shelves, without a prescription.

As drugs, birth control pills pose no greater risk than pain pills or decongestants to health – and we trust women to handle their own stuffy noses and sore throats. Contraceptives are especially safe now, with birth control pills containing lower doses of estrogen than when they first became available in the United States more than 50 years ago.

It may be  hard to imagine a world where birth control pills are sitting on the shelf next to the cough syrup and Tylenol, but just because the concept is unfamiliar does not mean that isn’t the right direction to move in. If we change the way we think about access and we make the choice to prioritize it, then we as a society can empower women, and undoubtedly affect the rate of unintended pregnancies in the country.

What’s more, establishing contraceptives as over-the-counter drugs would eliminate so many discrimination lines created by the current access standards – those of economic status, geographic location, age, race and circumstance. It would also ease the stigma about women taking control of their reproductive health. Because empowering women undoubtedly benefits everyone.

Help Pass the Access to Birth Control Act

Senia Hiltunen is the Fundraising and Policy Intern for NARAL Pro-Choice South Dakota. 

Picture this; you go into a pharmacy to refill your prescribed birth control from your doctor. You hand the pharmacist your prescription, and he gets a weird look on his face. Then, he hands back your prescription and tells you that they cannot fill your PRESCRIBED birth control because it is against his moral beliefs. You leave the pharmacy empty-handed, feeling ashamed and embarrassed. This picture of a story is real.  It has happened before, even in this state. Actually, only seven states hold pharmacies accountable if their pharmacists block women from getting birth control prescriptions filled.  This is WRONG!

Letting a pharmacist lecture a woman about birth control or emergency contraception is not only humiliating for the woman, but also an overstep of authority for the pharmacist.  Birth control is a prescribed medication from a doctor who has seen and validated it as a medical need. As for emergency contraception, it has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for over-the-counter sale to adults.  For pharmacists to use their personal beliefs to interfere with essential women’s healthcare is an insult to women and medical professionals alike. 

But now, there is a way you can help stop this ridiculous practice.

It’s called the Access to Birth Control (ABC) Act, sponsored by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Sen. Frank Lautneberg (D-NJ.) If enacted, it would ensure that a pharmacist’s personal beliefs do not hinder a women’s right by making sure that pharmacies have policies in place to guarantee timely access to prescription medicines for paying customers. With the ABC Act, Congress has an opportunity to give women control over their reproductive health by ensuring access to birth control, the most commonsense way to prevent unintended pregnancies and reduce the need for abortion.

NARAL needs YOU to help pass this crucial piece of legislation by contacting your U.S. representatives and senators, and urge them to co-sponsor and pass the ABC Act.

NARAL has set up a way where you can easily contact them here.

So, please join me and NARAL Pro-Choice South Dakota in standing up against rogue pharmacists and supporting the ABC Act to ensure access to birth control for everyone, everywhere in the U.S.