Nancy Keenan is the President of NARAL Pro-Choice America.
The Food and Drug Administration, after more than three years of unprecedented political interference, finally agreed with its medical and scientific experts to allow women to purchase the emergency contraceptive pill Plan B® over-the-counter.
NARAL Pro-Choice America, along with other women's health advocates, rightly celebrated this decision as a victory for sound science and women's health over the Bush administration's attempts to block women's access to this safe, effective form of birth control.
Bush and his right-wing allies may have lost this round, but we cannot underestimate their zeal to cut off women's access to contraception of all types. Already the far-right Family Research Council is "pursuing legal and legislative options against the FDA." These hysterics signify their open opposition to all forms of birth control. Perhaps they need reminding that birth control prevents abortion.
Okay, so in the face of this opposition, what can we do to ensure that all women receive Plan B® and other forms of birth control without harassment, lectures, or delay? PLENTY.
Here are examples of steps that can, and must, be taken by local and federal policymakers in order to realize emergency contraception's full potential:
- Protect Women From Anti-Choice Pharmacists -In 2006 alone, 18 states considered measures that would have allowed pharmacists or pharmacies to refuse to fill women's birth-control prescriptions. That's why Congress must pass the Access to Legal Pharmaceuticals Act ("ALPhA": S.809/H.R.1652) – a bill that would ensure that a woman receives Plan B® and other forms of birth control – without harassment, lectures, or delay. And if Congress fails to act, state legislatures and governors should take the lead – as Illinois did, when Gov. Rod Blagojevich wrote a statewide policy that ensures pharmacies provide women with the birth-control medication they need.
- Inform Rape Survivors About EC – Each year, approximately 25,000 women in the United States become pregnant as a result of sexual assault – but unbelievably, many hospitals fail (or refuse) to discuss emergency contraception with patients. Policymakers can, and should, improve this situation by passing the Compassionate Assistance for Rape Emergencies Act ("CARE": S.1264/H.R.2928). This bill would ensure that sexual-assault survivors learn about EC in hospital emergency rooms and are provided the medication upon request. And if Congress refuses to act, state "EC in the ER" laws could accomplish the same goal. To date, only eight states have enacted "EC in the ER" laws.
- Make Real Efforts to Prevent Teen Pregnancy – Since the Bush administration is continuing to deny over-the-counter access to emergency contraception for women under age 18, now seems an appropriate time for anti-choice policymakers finally to face the epidemic of teen pregnancy. The new Teen Pregnancy Prevention, Responsibility, and Opportunity Act (S.2508/H.R.5332) would fund programs that educate teens about their risk of pregnancy, teach young people about the significant responsibilities that come with parenthood, and help parents discuss tough topics – like sex – with their kids. Similarly, states can and should fund effective teen-pregnancy prevention programs; the investment will pay off in lower teen-pregnancy rates, lower rates of sexually transmitted disease, fewer dropouts from school, and healthier families overall.
It is time to build upon the success of the FDA decision to allow over-the-counter purchase of Plan B® and turn our efforts toward ensuring women's access to this safe, effective birth control option. Together, we flexed our grassroots muscles and gained the FDA approval. Now, we need to gather once again to ensure that we realize emergency contraception's full potential to prevent unintended pregnancy and reduce the need for abortion.
For more information on additional ways in which we can make the most of the FDA's Plan B® decision, please click here.