Feminists protest sexist morning after pill practice at UF infirmary
Jenny Brown
January 1998

Feminists want the UF Infirmary to consistently prescribe the Morning After Pill to women who need it, without asking prying questions or making women pledge to change their behavior in exchange for the pill.

Members of a community education class taught by Gainesville Women's Liberation spoke out Dec. 4 about their experiences getting or trying to get the Morning After Pill at the Infirmary. The Morning After Pill is a contraceptive method that can be used up to 72 hours after unprotected sex.

Testifiers' experiences varied widely. Some received the pill but were made to sign a form "promising to immediately start to use a reliable form of birth control", one woman was sent away, being told she "didn't need it" even though she couldn't remember the date of her last period, and one woman was told she could not get the pill because a practitioner had a "moral objection" to providing it. She was told to return the next day. Because the Morning After Pill may act by preventing implantation of a fertilized egg in the womb, some claim it is like an abortion.

In 1991, Michael Katsonis, an infirmary pharmacist, refused to dispense the Morning After Pill to women who needed it. After Campus NOW organized a campaign to get women access to the Morning After Pill, he was forced to resign.

The class distributed about 600 copies of the following flier before the speakout:

Protest the Infirmary's Sexist Policies on the Morning After Pill

1. WE DEMAND the Morning After Pill when we ask for it without irrelevant anti-woman interrogations about our sex lives.

2. WE DEMAND that the Infirmary stop turning women away, saying we don't "need" the Morning After Pill. Stop pretending that clinicians can predict a woman's fertility. Women can get pregnant at any time during their menstrual cycle. Since when is the rhythm method of predicting fertility reliable?

3. WE DEMAND that the Infirmary stop requiring women to sign a statement promising to use "a reliable form of birth control immediately" before getting the Morning After Pill. This statement is insulting, condescending and probably medically unethical. It implies that we can never again get the pill from the Infirmary. Are men ever required to sign such statements?

4. WE DEMAND that the Infirmary publicize the Morning After Pill, along with other birth control methods, so women students will know what's available to them.

No more prying questions about our sex lives and personal business! No more hoping and waiting with fingers crossed! We want unrestricted access to the Morning After Pill!

We also want men to take their fair share of responsibility for birth control.
Wear condoms--don't wait for the woman to ask--and pay for methods of birth control she uses.

What Happens Now When I Ask for the Morning After Pill at the Infirmary?
Women have to fill out a questionnaire requiring them to divulge information about the sex they had which has nothing to do with whether they can take the Morning After Pill or not.

"I had to check a box saying whether I had used birth control or not or if I'd been raped. I felt pressured to say because I thought they might need to know it. I was afraid to put the wrong answer." --a UF student

Women are also required to sign an insulting statement saying, "I will immediately begin using a reliable method of birth control."

"I asked her why I had to sign saying I would use birth control from now on. I wondered what would happen if I needed the Morning After Pill in the future if I promised that I would use birth control on the form. I didn't get any counseling on birth control, either."--a UF student

Sometimes the clinicians pry into women's personal lives, asking embarrassing and medically irrelevant questions about who they had sex with, how they met them and how long they have known them.

"I was scheduled for my yearly exam with a nurse. I told her I needed the Morning After Pill. She said Why? What happened? She asked me how I knew the guy. She acted like she was judging me for not using a condom and I felt guilty and bad about myself from her questions and tone."--a UF student

Another student was sent home without the Morning After Pill, even though she'd had unprotected sex and thought she might get pregnant.

"I asked if I would not be prescribed the Morning After Pill. He said he didn't think I needed it. I wasn't fully comfortable with this but I figured that this guy was a medical expert and knew what he was talking about. I accepted his answer, even though he didn't explain why. I left, thinking that I would wait it out and get an abortion if I was pregnant even though its really expensive."--a UF student

It doesn't have to be this way! Some women who go to the Infirmary report that they are able to get the Morning After Pill without hassles. Every woman, though, is asked if she was raped and if she used birth control. Everyone is also required to promise to use birth control in the future.

Do Other Clinics Treat Women This Way?
Those of us who went to clinics other than the Infirmary had a better experience.

"It was a really good experience as far as the way I was treated when I went to go get it. It was free. They didn't ask me any questions, they didn't tell me it was an emergency or make me sign a statement about birth control. I liked knowing that I could control what would happen to me in the future, even though I couldn't control that I had sex."-- a UF student who was raped

"I've never had a problem getting the Morning After Pill at the clinic I go to. I just tell them I need it, they give me a pregnancy test and that's it. No one ever asks me to give any details about the sex I had or whether I used birth control. The physician's assistant always acts like it's no big deal, that there's nothing bad or wrong with me."--a UF graduate

We called two local clinics, Planned Parenthood and Bread and Roses, and neither clinic requires women to promise to use birth control before the Morning After Pill is prescribed. Neither clinic routinely asks women if they were raped or if they used birth control or not. Women can decide if they want to talk about this or not.

Why would a woman who uses birth control need the Morning After Pill? Aren't women who use the Morning After Pill irresponsible?

In our experience, it is men and not women who are irresponsible about birth control. We found that on average, men used condoms without our having to tell them only 10% of the time. They resist or outright refuse to wear them. This leaves women to take the full responsibility for birth control--and we almost always do. When we ask for the Morning After Pill, we're yet again taking responsibility.

Even though most of us use birth control consistently, sometimes we forget to take pills, condoms break, our partners refuse to use condoms or put up such a fight we give in, or we are forced to have sex. No birth control method is perfect or fail safe. Some problems we have had using birth control are cost and side effects, including loss of sex drive, migraine headaches, nausea, constant bleeding, urinary tract infections, and vaginal dryness.

Only one woman in our group used birth control every single time she had sex and she has a partner who wears condoms without a fuss. For the rest of us, the noxious side effects and expense of many birth control methods, combined with men's resistance to using condoms, meant that all of us had sex at least once without birth control. Less frequently we have gotten "swept away" by romance or alcohol . But should that mean we are then required to have a baby? Men don't have to pay this price.

Why are feminists protesting the Infirmary over the Morning After Pill?
Women need to have the right to control when and if they will have a child. This is a cornerstone of freedom and self-determination for women. Women should be able to have sex without risking pregnancy, childbirth, and 18 years of child rearing. The Morning After Pill is one more way for us to prevent pregnancy, and since there are problems with every birth control method, women need every option at their disposal. It's sexist for the Infirmary to discourage us from getting the Morning After Pill with their prying forms and questions, double standards or outright refusal to dispense it.

Wasn't this a problem in the past? Why are there still problems at the Infirmary with the Morning After Pill?
In 1991, Michael Katsonis, a UF Infirmary pharmacist, refused to fill prescriptions for the Morning After Pill on religious grounds. After protest from the UF/SFCC Campus National Organization for Women (NOW), the UF administration asked him to resign. Yet some women are still being turned away, and the current Infirmary policies only humiliate women and limit access to the pill. We don't know why the Infirmary continues to allow clinicians to deny women the Morning After Pill, unless they believe that a potential pregnancy is more important than the woman herself and her hopes and plans for the future. If this is not the case, the Infirmary should act now, change the sexist policies, and put employees on notice that sexist treatment of women students won't be tolerated. ...

This protest and leaflet are projects of the 1997 community education class, "Women's Liberation: Where Do I Fit In?" taught by Gainesville Women's Liberation (GWL), the oldest southern women's liberation organization, founded in 1968. The experiences described here are those of class participants and people we interviewed. You can write Gainesville Women's Liberation at P.O. Box 2625, Gainesville, FL 32602."

The leaflet also urged women to write or call the Infirmary and to join Campus NOW to take feminist action on Campus.

On January 5, Infirmary director Michael Huey wrote to Gainesville Women's Liberation with a detailed response to the flier and the demands.

The letter contained revisions of the consent and intake forms, and proposed to remove the requirement that women promise to immediately start using birth reliable birth control.

"The basic upshot is that they're proposing to change one thing on the form, which is good. But they haven't proposed changes to ensure that no more women are turned away." said Amy Coenen, the class instructor.

To contact Campus NOW, call 379-7641.

What is the Morning After Pill?
Also known as Emergency Contraception or Post-Coital Contraception, the Morning After Pill is actually four to eight birth control pills which a woman can take after she has had sex to keep from getting pregnant. You have to take the pills within 72 hours of having sex for it to work, and the sooner you take it, the more effective it is. It is 75-80% effective in preventing pregnancy. It is not the same as RU-486, the so-called "French Abortion Pill."

Is it safe?
The Morning After Pill is safer than other hormonal birth control methods like Depro-Provera and regular birth control pill use. There are possibilities for the same serious side effects as birth control pills, like a blood clot or stroke. These side effects are rare in birth control pill users, and even more rare in Morning After Pill users.

Doesn't it make you sick?
The Morning After Pill causes nausea in many women, but this does not happen to everyone. Some women experience vomiting. Taking the pills with food and using Emetrol, an over the counter anti-nausea medicine, lessens or prevents nausea entirely.

How much does it cost?
It costs $11.60 to get the pills at the Infirmary. Other clinics in town charge up to $40.

--From leaflet distributed by the Gainesville Women's Liberation class.

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