Just Saying No (Again) to Emergency Contraception

After years of bureaucratic ping-pong, the answer is still no. Hell no.

No, you can’t protect yourself from an unintended pregnancy. Nothing to do if the condom breaks, the diaphragm slips, or you have been raped. It’s a no-go, even if you are trying to prevent having an abortion. No, no, no.

The FDA rejected yet another request from more than 60 reproductive health organizations seeking over-the-counter status of Plan B. Meaning you still need permission (oops – I mean a prescription), from a doctor, pharmacist, or other health care professional in order to access emergency contraception.

Was it because it was dangerous to women, ineffective, rushed through an approval process? No, no, no! FDA’s own panel of experts already said, in an almost unanimous 23-4 decision, that it was “extraordinarily safe” and recommended for over-the-counter use.

"The FDA’s rejection of our citizen’s petition in the midst of this lawsuit simply confirms what we have believed all along. The FDA, in the thrall of the Bush administration’s anti-science agenda, has put aside its mission to promote public health in favor of depriving women of easier access to this important drug," said Simon Heller, staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights and lead attorney in a case seeking to learn more about the FDA refusal and reversals on Plan B, emergency contraception.

Continued political denial places women and their partners in an unnecessarily precarious situation and essentially forces them to face an unplanned pregnancy when a contraceptive option could prevent that pregnancy, and a likely subsequent abortion. As “Dana L.” writes for the Washington Post, “The conservative politics of the Bush administration forced me to have an abortion I didn't want.” Despite being a happily-married mother of two trying to take care of herself, she was unable to obtain emergency contraception, having been denied a prescription by her physician, internist, and a midwifery practice. Two weeks later, she and her husband faced an unintended pregnancy, and she had an abortion.

With widespread availability, emergency contraception could prevent more than half of all unintended pregnancies in this country. According to Planned Parenthood Federation of America, emergency contraception could make a huge difference in preventing the 1.5 million unintended pregnancies and 800,000 abortions in the US each year.

So, why the “Just Say No” attitude?

Anti-abortion groups such as Family Research Council, American Life League, and Concerned Women for America continue to lobby hard to keep Plan B out of the medicine cabinets of American couples, publicly claiming medical, legal, and safety reasons. Others, a bit more forthright in their lobbying, claim opposition based on access by teens or the possibility of increased promiscuity with availability. The Family Research Councils deftly states their opposition based on emergency contraception being “…the new Saturday night party favor of choice.”

The pressure to keep emergency contraception out of the hands of American women is not only being applied by organizations opposed to birth control at the federal level, but at the state level as well.

Wendy Wright from Concerned Women of America, states, “… if the FDA decides the drug could be sold over the counter, it could become available for anyone to buy at gas stations and convenience stores unless Michigan adopts a law preventing it.” And that’s exactly what state lawmakers are doing in preparation for a day when Plan B might become available without a prescription – at least in the great state of Michigan, women will still need one.

This disturbing trend of denying women access to emergency contraception can also seen in Idaho, where County Commissioners recently and illegally decided in a closed-door meeting that their “health district's Family Planning Services would not offer the emergency contraception pill.” Makes me wonder why they think they are capable of making a decision in private – they think women and their families are not.

Pharmacists are also attempting to play the nay-saying parent role in this emergency contraceptive game. Kudos, however, to Washington Governor Christine Gregorie for taking on her state’s Pharmacy Board and their recent rule allowing pharmacists to fill or not to fill. In a news conference, the governor aptly states, "They made a mistake. It's time that it's corrected." Additionally, the Oregon State Board of Pharmacy, in an attempt to address pharmacist refusal legislation, has “voted that in the case of contraception, patients must be provided with an alternative way of obtaining the medication in a timely manner.”

The answer is simple, and it isn’t “no.” In order to prevent unintended pregnancies and the need for abortion, emergency contraception should be available to women. Denying timely access to Plan B only fosters a more difficult decision for women and their families in the long-run.

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