Feminists promise civil disobedience to get Morning-After Pill over the counter
Following their feminist foremothers who broke the law to win the vote and gain access to birth control, feminists attending the Florida National Organization for Women (NOW) conference January 17th announced that they will publicly violate the law to pressure the FDA to make the Morning- After Pill an over-the counter drug in the U.S.
Announcing Feb. 15th as "Give Your Friend the Morning-After Pill Day" feminists circulated a pledge: "On Feb. 15, the day after Valentines Day, we will give our friends the Morning-After Pill in front of the public and press" the statement said. "Thousands of women across our country regularly break the law by giving friends the Morning-After Pill when they need it. Why is helping our friends illegal? Because this safe medication is still prescription-only. This is outrageous. In more than 38 countries, women can walk into a store and get the Morning-After Pill without a prescription." Forty-six conference attendees signed on.
Feminists are bringing attention to the issue now because FDA is expected to make a decision by February 20th, the end of a drawn-out process. On December 16, a combined FDA advisory panel met in Gaithersburg, Maryland to hear presentations by the manufacturer and testimony from the public. At the end of the day they recommended in an overwhelming 23 to 4 vote that the FDA switch the Morning-After Pill to over-the-counter status, similar to aspirin and cold medicine. They heard testimony from representatives of among 76 women's and health organizations that support the switch.
The panel heard ample evidence that the pill is safe, even with repeated use, to the point that Julie Johnson, Chair of Pharmacy Practice at UF and a Nonprescription Drugs Advisory Committee panelist stated, "I've been on this committee for four years and this is the safest product brought before us." Dr. Alastair Wood, a Vanderbilt doctor also on the panel noted, "It's extraordinarily safe." Side effects of daily birth control pills such as blood clots are a result of long-term hormone use, but the Morning-After Pill is a short-term dose, and carries none of these dangerous side effects. A small percentage of users experience nausea.
The opposition to the switch is small but vocal, and includes many known opponents of women's rights, including Concerned Women of America and Focus on the Family. In mid-January forty-nine conservative congressional representatives urged George W. Bush to put pressure on the FDA to stop the switch. However, even some abortion opponents think greater availability of the Morning-After Pill will decrease the number of abortions. The anti-abortion National Right to Life committee, for example, has taken no position on the Morning-After Pill.
The FDA's combined panel also heard from dozens of women who had trouble obtaining the medication when they needed it, because of the prescription requirement and the added time and cost of a doctor's appointment.
Stephanie Seguin of Gainesville Area NOW told the panel that when she was studying abroad in France there were public health volunteers passing out condoms and the morning-after pill in bars. However, when she needed it, back in Gainesville, "I had to brave football game-day traffic to go to the [UF] infirmary, which turned out to be closed. I had to just pray that I wouldn't get pregnant."
Linda Freeman of New York State NOW's Reproductive Rights Taskforce said that she knew of the Morning-After Pill because someone handed her a card about it when she was in college, but when she needed it, shortly after moving to New York City, it was almost impossible to find. "In my search, the Morning-After Pill was neither affordable or accessible. When I began calling health centers, I found that the cost of the Morning-After Pill was $50 to $125, which included the doctor visit... [this] was way out of my league. I barely had enough money to get to the subway and make it to school and work."
Hillary Blowers, another New York State Taskforce member, testified that when she needed the morning-after pill she had to call twenty doctors to try to get an appointment, and then pay over $200 for the doctor's office visit.
The testifiers were also hard on men who try to evade wearing condoms, and characterized the Morning-After Pill as a good backup to condom use. Studies presented to the panel showed that condom use did not decrease when the Morning-After Pill became available.
Feminists argue that the requirement to make and pay for a doctor's appointment and then get a prescription filled is unreasonable for a drug which is most likely to prevent pregnancy if used in the first 24 hours after unprotected sex. The pill is still effective if used up to 120 hours after sex, but its effectiveness goes down as each day passes. The added cost of the doctor's visit and difficulty of obtaining it in time means that many women don't use it. If it were available on the shelves at the local 24-hour drugstore, they argue, many more women would have access to an important backup birth control method.
But feminists also say that an administration that has consistently tried to restrict women's rights-including signing an appallingly vague anti-abortion bill (which is being challenged in court)-will not approve this measure without significant pressure from the public. Several states, including California and Washington State, have put the Morning-After Pill into a third category, "behind the counter" which essentially allows the pharmacist to prescribe the drug. FDA advisory panelists and feminists agreed that this third option does not sufficiently free up access. Feminists said it's just another barrier and insult to women.
The Morning-After Pill that the FDA is considering for over-the- counter is under the brand name Plan B, which consists of two pills containing levenorgestrel. The first pill is taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex, and the second pill is taken 12 hours later. (Some medical providers tell women to take both pills at once, which seems to be just as effective and avoids the chance of missing the second pill.) This progestin-only brand of the morning-after pill is associated with less nausea, and has no other significant side effects. It works by preventing implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus, thus preventing pregnancy. (Pregnancy is defined medically as the moment a fertilized egg implants.)
The Morning-After Pill, also known as emergency contraception (EC), is frequently confused-especially by its opponents-with RU-486, the "French Abortion Pill" which induces abortion. RU-486 can be used several months into pregnancy, similar to a surgical abortion. In contrast, the Morning-After Pill will not work if you are already pregnant.
The Morning-After Pill has been prescribed by physicians for over 25 years in an 'off-label' use-that is, regular birth control pills were given in a shorter, higher dosage to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex. In the mid-90s the FDA finally approved pre-packaged 'morning-after pills' for prescription use 'on label' in two brands, Preven and Plan B.
But because of the prescription barrier, women who know about the Morning-After Pill have been giving friends in need of them old packages of unused birth control pills, or using their own old unused packages. A website set up by women's health advocates, www.not-2-late.com, explains how to use various daily birth control pills as the morning-after pill.
With Preven and Plan B, some women's health practitioners write prescriptions so that their patients can have it available if they need it. Other doctors refuse to. There are also pharmacists who refuse to fill prescriptions on religious grounds. Thus an underground has risen up with women sharing their prescriptions if a friend is in need, generally because of condom failure.
But it's illegal to give a prescription medication someone else, an act which carries up to a $500 fine.
Nonetheless, feminists say they will publicly break the law to demonstrate the need for the switch to over-the-counter, "Now we are proudly going public with our actions to make clear that we will continue to increase women's access to the Morning-After-Pill illegally, if necessary" the pledge circulated at the Florida NOW conference stated. "We the undersigned commit to give a friend the Morning-After Pill on Feb.15-or on any day they need it."
Concluding, the feminists say: "In addition to pledging to give a friend the Morning-After Pill, we the undersigned say to the FDA: Take away the unfair barriers that drive up the cost and block timely access to the Morning-After Pill! Free up our access to the Morning-After Pill by making it an over-the-counter medication- and stop making us criminals!" (The full statement is reprinted below).
The statement invites women to sign onto the pledge by emailing their names and addresses to firstname.lastname@example.org before Feb. 1.
The statement, and all the names, will be sent to the FDA on February 1st. In Gainesville, women will gather at the Civic Media Center at 11 am on Sunday, Feb. 15th to celebrate "Give Your Friend the Morning-After Pill Day."
February 15: Give Your Friend the Morning After Pill Day
Thousands of women across our country regularly break the law by giving friends the Morning-After Pill when they need it. Why is helping our friends illegal? Because this safe medication is still prescription-only. This is outrageous. In more than 38 countries, women can walk into a store and get the Morning-After Pill without a prescription.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has the chance to change all this. Between now and February 20th, FDA commissioner Mark McClellan will decide whether the Morning-After Pill will be made over the counter in the U.S.
On December 16th, two FDA Advisory Committees voted overwhelmingly (23 to 4) to recommend that the FDA change the Morning-After Pill to over-the-counter status.
Seventy-six physician's and health groups, including the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, say the Morning-After Pill is safe for over the counter distribution. More than 60 U.S. newspapers have taken an editorial position in favor of the Morning-After Pill going over the counter.
The Morning-After Pill (MAP) is a safe backup birth control method that can be taken up to 120 hours after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy. It's most effective within the first 24 hours after sex. (It is NOT the same as RU-486, the so-called "French Abortion Pill." If you are already pregnant, MAP will not work.) The Morning-After Pill has been made inaccessible to women for decades by the prescription requirement. This means women have to make a doctor's appointment making it expensive and difficult (if not impossible) to obtain in time. Requiring pharmacist prescriptions (behind the counter status) is not sufficient. There would still be a barrier to access and this reproductive decision would remain out of women's hands.
Women all over the country are already breaking the law to evade an unjust law. Now we are proudly going public with our actions to make clear that we will continue to increase women's access to the Morning-After-Pill illegally, if necessary.
We the undersigned commit to give a friend the Morning-After Pill on Feb.15-or on any day they need it.
On Feb. 15, the day after Valentines Day, we will give our friends the Morning-After Pill in front of the public and press. The FDA may decide to make our actions legal by giving the Morning-After Pill over-the-counter status, which would be a great victory for women's rights and women's health.
In addition to pledging to give a friend the Morning-After Pill, we the undersigned say to the FDA: Take away the unfair barriers that drive up the cost and block timely access to Morning-After Pill! Free up our access to the Morning-After Pill by making it an over-the-counter medication-and stop making us criminals!
This pledge will be sent to the FDA on February 1st. To sign up please email your name and address, (and group affiliation if you wish) to:
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