The confusing story of emergency contraception access

As many of you may have heard, the world of emergency contraception (EC) access is getting rather complicated. We’re going to do our best to break it down for you. Hold on to your hats, campers.

In the beginning, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made a recommendation that emergency contraceptives should be sold over the counter, without restrictions. But then the Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius overturned that recommendation (something that had never been done before), retracting the FDA’s support of universal access to EC.

Then along came Judge Edward R. Korman (he’s awesome) who made a ruling in April that all emergency contraceptives should be available over-the-counter, without restrictions – just like the original recommendation from the FDA.

He said let there be access, and it was good. But the FDA no longer supported the unrestricted access.

So then the FDA, under the orders of the administration, appealed the decision by Judge Korman, and the issue was sent to the next level of the courts, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

For simplicity’s sake, let’s review the progression so far (yay flow chart):

FDA recommendation –> Secretary Sebelius overturns FDA recommendation –> Judge Korman ruling –> FDA appeals Judge Korman’s ruling –> issue sent to 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals

So that’s how the issue of emergency contraception access ended up at the 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals.

Now this past Wednesday, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan made a ruling on some forms of emergency contraceptives, determining that they be available over the counter immediately and without restrictions.

So that’s the good news – but unfortunately, it gets further complicated from there.

Seriously, prepare to be confused.

Amid the ongoing drama from the FDA, Secretary Sebelius and the courts, the current status of emergency contraceptives access is as follows:

The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals has permitted two-pill versions of emergency contraception to be sold over the counter, without restrictions. That includes the original Plan B and any generic two-pill forms of contraception.

Now, as for Plan B One Step, which mirrors the effects of the original two-pill Plan B except in a convenient one-pill dosage, it still remains in the limbo of the appeals court and remains available only for women ages 15 and older who can prove their age with an official form of ID. Which is problematic, since many states don’t issue learner’s permits or driver’s licenses until age 16. So they’re asking for forms of ID that many young girls won’t have access to, making it so they then can’t access the emergency contraception.

Every other generic form of emergency contraception that involves only one pill is available over the counter to women 17 and older who can prove their age with an official form of ID.

It is yet unclear why the different pill forms have been distinguished from each other, since they offer the exact same result, just in fewer steps. Although, obviously simplicity in access is not an underlying goal here.

In summary, as of Wednesday emergency contraception access is as follows:

Form of Emergency Contraception

Number of Pills


ID Required?

Plan B








Plan B One Step

ages 15 and older



ages 17 and older


BUT the federal administration (cough, Secretary Sebelius, cough) has two weeks from yesterday to  decide whether it will appeal the two-pill ruling (keep in mind that they are still currently in the appeals process for the one-pill forms). If the FDA does additionally appeal the two-pill ruling then it will go to either a full review by the 2nd Circuit Court or directly to the Supreme Court.

Of course, 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 that, 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


Find more information on the ongoing emergency contraception drama here: from Mother Jones or from Huffington Post.


Take responsibiltiy for your sexual health

April was Sexually Transmitted Diseases Awareness month. Our coalition partner Planned Parenthood refers to it as Get Yourself Tested Month – which we think it an important call to action.

The month was aimed at promoting education, prevention, and of course, getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Because really, getting tested is pretty easy.

Sure, it’s not something you look forward to – but if you aren’t getting tested then you aren’t taking responsibility for your own health or the health of your sexual partner(s).

And it’s not just something you need to do in your 30s. Teens and young adults account for more than half of the cases of Gonorrhea in South Dakota and there were 707 cases reported in the state during 2012. What’s more, a sexually active teen who does not use contraception has a 90-percent chance of becoming pregnant within a year.

Regardless of your age: sex comes with responsibilities. It’s important to protect yourself by using condoms – other contraceptives do not protect against STDs. It’s also important to talk about your sexual history, and that of your would-be partner, before having sex (wait until after and you might be unpleasantly surprised). Get tested for STDs. Ask your doctor questions.

Getting tested is even more important because some STDs, like Chlamydia, don’t always present symptoms. Up to 75 percent of women with Chlamydia don’t have symptoms, which is dangerous because left untreated Chlamydia can lead to complications such as inflammation, infertility or miscarriage. But again, it is completely treatable if caught early. In 2012 alone there were 3,922 cases of Chlamydia reported in South Dakota.

The statistics aren’t great: 1 in 2 sexually active people will get a STD by the age of 25. So in other words, if you get a STD, you’re not alone. But there is good news – some STDs are curable and all are treatable.

So, if you didn’t get around to it in April, you should still go out and celebrate Get Yourself Tested Month the right way – by taking responsibility for your sexual well-being today. While April may be the month when we celebrate it officially, taking responsibility for your sexual health is important throughout the year.

Native women fight for access to reproductive healthcare

Sunny Clifford is a NARAL Pro-Choice South Dakota board member.

I grew up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, born and raised. I am a child of eight siblings. My mom was married twice and had four children from each marriage. She ended up a single mother of eight. Life was hard growing up. As soon as I found out what my body was capable of (around the age of 12) I didn’t want to be like my mom. I didn’t want to have eight children. We were hungry, sometimes shoeless. I didn’t want to bring that suffering upon anyone. So here I sit, childless, and not unhappy. I have a dog and she’s the best. I waited a really long time to be a dog owner. I want all women to have this right to decide if they want children or not, and when they want them.

The lack of access to reproductive healthcare in South Dakota, especially on an Indian reservation, is astonishing. You’d think you weren’t in the United States, you know with the woman’s right to choose and Roe v. Wade, those freedoms that make life feel as if you have some control over it.

I wasn’t aware of my lack of reproductive rights until last year when I read a report about Native women’s lack of access to Plan B, the morning after pill. (click here for the Roundtable Report on the Access of Plan B as an over-the-counter (OTIC) within Indian Health Service). I read that we are entitled to get the emergency contraceptive through Indian Health Service (IHS). I was shocked and upset that I hadn’t known this before. The reality is that for most of us living on reservations, it has been extremely difficult to access over-the-counter Plan B (however, significant improvements have been made in the past few months due the activism work of incredible Native women). I sat there and thought to myself: Why are so many women being denied this right when the rest of the women in America are not? Is it because we are Indian? Yes, it was because of our race; it was because of our location.

We are denied so many other crucial reproductive rights. Since Cecelia Fire Thunder’s impeachment from her position as tribal president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe in 2006—because she stood up for women’s rights in the state of South Dakota—the tribe has outlawed abortion on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. And since then, the state of South Dakota has instated mandatory counseling sessions and a 72-hour wait period prior to obtaining abortion care. Oh, and let’s not forget the numerous other anti-choice, anti-women laws that have been passed recently. Where is our freedom? Where is our choice? Where are our rights?

I feel blessed (most of the time, especially when I’m not menstruating because it’s so utterly painful) to be a woman. I love my body. I love having breasts. I love the idea that I can be host to another being inside my body. It’s beautiful. However, other times, as an Indigenous woman, I feel powerless because of policies that have been forced upon my peoples’ bodies since the days of early colonization.

Let’s reminisce for a sweet moment while I try to take you down a memory lane you have no personal recollection of. In a land not far away from here, on Indian reservations, there once were a people, in particular, a group of women, who were in complete control of their reproductive systems. They knew what plants and teas to consume, they knew those things as medicine for their bodies. They knew when it was appropriate for them to have children and how many they wanted. Their world was turned upside down when the settlers decided that the Native American lands and people were theirs for the taking. This was over a hundred years ago; it still has not ceased.

We cannot feel sorry for our circumstances – okay if you must, take a second or so to feel bad – but then get enraged. Get enraged because we should be the only people to decide for ourselves what to do with our bodies, our precious, beautiful, life-giving bodies (or non life-giving bodies, that should be our choice).

Denying Native American women, and especially those women living in rural areas across the country (and wherever else these violations occur), access to reproductive healthcare is unacceptable. We must all join together and reclaim our bodies, reclaim our minds, reclaim our lives. We do not need Congressmen telling us how we should run our woman parts.

Click here to sign Sunny’s petition on for IHS to stop blocking access to Plan B.