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Emergency Contraception: Happy Anniversary!

August 24th, 2007     by Stacey May Fowles     Comments


It’s been just over two years since emergency contraception (“the morning after pill” or Plan B) has been offered without a prescription to women across the country. Stateside, this week marks the one year anniversary of the FDA approving the same access to American women. Since this decree there’s been much discussion about what issues EC activists need to tackle moving forward, specifically individual pharmacists refusing to dispense (a huge problem for women in rural areas and limited healthcare access.) From the Canadian Federation for Sexual Health:

There have been some rare cases of pharmacists refusing to dispense EC due to their personal values. Pharmacists have this right as a health professional but they are also obliged to refer you to a pharmacist who is willing to provide the service and give you EC.

The other problem activists are faced with is the fact that EC is only available to women in the United States without a prescription if they’re over the age of 18 (from what I can tell, in principle, in Canada, everyone has access, including men):

(In the US) those under 18 will need to obtain a prescription from a healthcare professional and can obtain ECPs without their parents being notified. Some clinics may request parental consent before prescribing ECPs to minors, but they are not required by law to do so.

I’m of the belief that increasing the availability of EC was a landmark step forward for women’s sexual health and autonomy,  but I also think that that same access should be offered to women under the age of 18. I would argue that it is more important for teenagers to have this kind of access, as older women do not generally suffer the same familial and social pressures around sexuality that would make it difficult to ask their doctors for a prescription. Health care for teenagers is usually limited to a family doctor (who is likely treating the rest of your family,) a relationship that might make it difficult to request EC. Being able to go to a pharmacy could make all the difference for teens in terms of a need for anonymity.

I should add here that by all accounts, the science overwhelmingly shows that EC is safe for women of all ages. Here’s what Scarleteen has to say on the topic:

We feel the only reason it is not is not due to medical or practical concerns, but to political agendas and a strong desire for those in power to control women’s lives, and usurp women’s rights to ownership of their/our own bodies.

Finally, they add a temporary solution:

The FDA heads have compared sales of Plan B to the way sales of alcohol, cigarattes and nicotene replacement products go (we know, it’s crazy to treat birth control as contraband: boy, do we know). However, at this time, there is no reason to assume that someone over 18 cannot practically and lawfully obtain EC for someone under 18… There are no restrictions against a person 18 or older buying the product in advance to have on hand for future use. There are no restrictions against a person 18 or older buying multiple packages of Plan B at one time. Opponents of the age restriction have noted that it will be much easier for young women to get an older friend or relative to buy Plan B for them than to get a doctor’s prescription (and cheaper, too).

What do you think? Should EC be available without a prescription to everyone? Has anyone had difficulty obtaining it from a pharmacist without a prescription? 

Tags: body politics

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