America’s rate of unwanted pregnancy is a huge public health scandal, but five years after being approved by the FDA, emergency contraception–the use of normal birth control pills to block pregnancy within seventy-two hours of unprotected sex–has yet to fulfill its potential. Part of the problem has to do with the difficulty of getting EC in time; many doctors don’t want the hassle of dealing with walk-in patients, many clinics are closed on weekends and holidays (times of peak demand) and some pharmacies, like Wal-Mart’s, refuse to stock it. That anti-choicers falsely liken EC to abortion and tar it as a dangerous drug doesn’t help.
The main barrier to EC use, though, is that most women don’t know what it is. To spread the word, Jennifer Baumgardner and I have written an open letter explaining how EC works, how to get it and why women should even consider acquiring it in advance. If every Nation reader with access to the Internet forwards it to ten people and one list, and those people do the same and on and on, it could reach thousands, even millions of women. Like ads for Viagra, only not spam. Activism doesn’t get much easier than this!
An Open Letter About EC
The one thing that activists on every side of the abortion debate agree on is that we should reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies. There are 3 million unintended pregnancies each year in the United States; around 1.4 million of them end in abortion. Yet the best tool for reducing unwanted pregnancies has only been used by 2 percent of all adult women in the United States, and only 11 percent of us know enough about it to be able to use it. No, we aren’t talking about abstinence–we mean something that works!
The tool is EC, which stands for Emergency Contraception (and is also known as the Morning After Pill). For more than twenty-five years, doctors have dispensed EC “off label” in the form of a handful of daily birth control pills. Meanwhile, many women have taken matters into their own hands by popping a handful themselves after one of those nights–you know, when the condom broke or the diaphragm slipped or for whatever reason you had unprotected sex.
Preven (on the market since 1998) and Plan B (approved in 1999), the dedicated forms of EC, operate essentially as a higher-dose version of the Pill. The first dose is taken within seventy-two hours after unprotected sex, and a second pill is taken twelve hours later. EC is at least 75 percent effective in preventing an unwanted pregnancy after sex by interrupting ovulation, fertilization and implantation of the egg.
If you are sexually active, or even if you’re not right now, you should keep a dose of EC on hand. It’s less anxiety-producing than waiting around to see if you miss your period; much easier, cheaper and more pleasant than having to arrange for a surgical abortion. To find an EC provider in your area, see www.backupyourbirthcontrol.org, www.not-2-late.com or ec.princeton.edu/providers/index.html.
Pass this on to anyone you think may not know about backing up their birth control (or do your own thing and let us know about it). Let’s make sure we have access to our own hard-won sexual and reproductive freedom!
The Things You Need to Know About EC
EC is easy. A woman takes a dose of EC within seventy-two hours of unprotected sex, followed by a second dose twelve hours later.
EC is legal.
EC is safe. It is FDA-approved and supported by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
EC is not an abortion. Anti-choicers who call EC “the abortion pill” or “chemical abortion” also believe contraceptive pills, injections and IUDs are abortions. According to the FDA, EC pills “are not effective if the woman is pregnant; they act primarily by delaying or inhibiting ovulation, and/or by altering tubal transport of sperm and/or ova (thereby inhibiting fertilization), and/or altering the endometrium (thereby inhibiting implantation).”
EC has a long shelf life. You can keep your EC on hand for at least two years.
EC is for women who use birth control. You should back up your birth control by keeping a dose of EC in your medicine cabinet or purse.
What You Can Do to Help
Forward this e-mail to everyone you know. Post it on lists, especially those with lots of women and girls. Print out this information, photocopy it to make instant leaflets and pass them around in your community. Call your healthcare provider, clinic, or university health service and ask if they provide EC. Spread the word if they do. Lobby them (via petitions, meetings with the administrators, etc.) to offer EC if they don’t.
Make sure that your ER has EC on hand for rape victims and offers it to them as a matter of policy. Many hospitals, including most Catholic hospitals, do not dispense EC even to rape victims.
Get in touch with local organizations–Planned Parenthood, NOW, NARAL, campus groups–and work with them to pressure hospitals to amend their policies.
If you can’t find a group, start your own. Submit an Op-Ed to your local paper or send letters to the editor about EC.
Make sure your pharmacy fills EC prescriptions. Some states have “conscience clauses” that exempt pharmacists from dispensing drugs that have to do with women’s reproductive freedom.