Local women to commit civil disobedience by giving out morning-after pill April 19th
Joan Froede
April 2005

On April 8, 2005, U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) agreed to stop the appointment of Lester Crawford as permanent director of the FDA until a decision is made on the over-the-counter approval of Plan Btm emergency contraceptives. (Plan Btm is also known as the Morning-After-Pill, or MAP. The Morning-After Pill is not RU- 486, which is also known as the French abortion pill.)

Gainesville women intend to help make the MAP available.

The issue: Ready, over-the-counter access to the Morning-After-Pill (MAP) for all women.

"The FDA advisory committee has recommended approval of Plan Btm based on safety and effectiveness, but the FDA continues to drag its feet," said Senator Murray. "...[B]y ignoring sound science, they have jeopardized the public confidence and the health of American women...there is no scientific reason for this approval not to go forward."

The FDA has held women's health hostage for a number of years. Now women fighting to control their own bodies are doing what they can to hold the FDA hostage.

"The FDA has had the Plan B application for years and the American people simply need an answer yes or no. Science should never take a back seat to politics and ideology," adds Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY).

The problem: Political conservatives, led by President Bush, are pushing forward a fundamentalist view of sexuality and are trying to restrict access to this and many other methods of birth control. They claim that they are protecting women, that, in this case, they are not sure the pill is safe.

The reality: the FDA scientific advisory board has approved the MAP as safe, but Crawford has stonewalled its approval for over the counter access. He simply says the review will continue.

The reality for women: Efforts are being made to restrict women's ability to control their own bodies and their personal destinies, their choice as to the best time, if ever, for them to become mothers. Even if the FDA does approve it, women may still face obstacles obtaining the MAP. Some stores refuse to stock it. Others may place it in hard to find, hard to reach, or behind the counter locations. But it will be a significant step in the right of women to control their own bodies and not be forced to submit to the tyranny of men who know nothing of them, of their lives, of their personal values and experience, and who seem to propose that childbearing should be the punishment for sex. Preventing women from controlling the decision as to whether or not to have a child goes much farther than punishing a woman in the moment.

"When women can't control how many children we have, we don't have as much money, power, time or freedom as men. This often forces us into lower-paying jobs, or else keeps us in the home where we work for free" says Kelly Mangan, president of UF Campus NOW.

"The approval of Plan B should be made based on the public health needs of women across the country, not concerns over 'behavior' or philosophical beliefs," says Sen. Murray. "...American women deserve direct access to safe and effective treatments."

The Drug: Plan Btm is a higher dose of an ingredient found in regular birth control pills. It is a safe backup birth control method that can be taken up to 72 hours after sex to prevent pregnancy, but it is most effective within the first 24 hours after sex.

The MAP, is a contraceptive that can be taken "after the condom breaks." It contains progestin, and does not contain estrogen, the hormone that often has unpleasant and sometimes dangerous side effects. It cannot prevent the transmission of STDs as condoms can, but in the event of condom or other contraceptive failure, it can prevent pregnancy. Its availability after rape is critical. It has minimal side effects for most women. Its accessibility does not encourage unprotected sex, as conservatives argue.

The MAP is currently available by prescription only, requiring a doctor visit, a prescription, a drugstore willing to sell it, a drug store that stocks it. It requires the money to pay for it all. The pill generally costs around $30, less at the Student Health Center. A doctor visit may cost considerably more. And then there is the cost that cannot be estimated in dollars and cents: the stress, the worry, the difficulty of finding it and getting it in time (preferably within 24 hours), the time off work to obtain it, and the frequent questioning and embarrassment women must endure to get this protection--protection which is readily available in 38 countries around the world.

"I needed the Morning-After-Pill after I went away for a long weekend and got a couple of days behind on my daily birth control pills. I had sex with my boyfriend after I got back and realized I was in trouble," says Annie Tummino, lead plaintiff of Tummino v. Crawford. "I needed the Morning-After-Pill as back-up and I didn't have it...I called my doctor's office...it was closed when I called. I went online and found a list of NYC clinics... I began to panic. I help my boss run a small business... she was out of the office that day." Annie had to be in the office. "There was no way I could ... wait in a clinic for hours to be seen....The clock was ticking." Finally, she says, she "found a NYC hotline where you talk to a doctor over the phone and they will call in a prescription to a pharmacy for you without actually seeing you in person."

More than seventy medical organizations including the American Medical Association and the New England Journal of Medicine support over-the-counter access to the MAP. The FDA advisory committee voted 23-4 that it is safe for over-the-counter sales.

The Action: Until Crawford stops blocking women's access to the MAP, women will block his appointment to be Commissioner of the FDA. But although this is a major advance, Crawford is nonetheless acting in the position, as he has since March, 2004. So civil actions and civil disobedience must and will continue.

Leading the grassroots fight to make the Morning-After-Pill an over-the-counter drug is a coalition of feminist organizations called the MAP Conspiracy. It calls itself a conspiracy because of the need for women to conspire to break the law just to get the MAP. As part of the MAP Conspiracy, more than 2300 women have signed a pledge to give the MAP to a friend in need. (You can read about and sign the pledge at www.mapconspiracy.org.)

Feminists, representing the MAP Conspiracy, have filed a suit, Tummino v. Crawford, alleging that the FDA has applied a discriminatory standard to approving Plan Btm for over-the-counter use because of the nature of the drug--it is safe, easy-to-use birth control for women.

Gainesville women, including representatives of Gainesville Area NOW, Florida NOW, Young Feminist Task Force, Gainesville Women's Liberation, and UF Campus NOW are Plaintiffs.

The Action in Gainesville: Gainesville Women's Liberation, the first Women's Liberation group formed in the South, offers a class entitled: "Women's Liberation: Where Do I Fit In." The students of the class are joining the MAP conspiracy campaign and will be handing out pills on Tuesday, April 19 at noon at 13th and University.

"We are proud to be following in the footsteps of women like Margaret Sanger, who passed out information on birth control when it was illegal to do so, to showcase how unjust the law was," says Stephanie Seguin, teacher of the Women's Liberation course. "We are conducting civil disobedience to make clear that we will continue to increase women's access to the Morning-After-Pill--illegally if necessary.

"We know the prescription requirement is wrong and we are going to defy it. We hope the FDA will, as it has promised, base its decision on science instead of anti-woman politics."

For more information about the action call Stephanie at 380-9934.

The action (or inaction) of the FDA on the Morning After Pill

FDA approves the use of Plan B as an emergency contraceptive available by prescription ONLY. (Since the 1970s, doctors prescribed several birth control pills to be taken at once, an unapproved 'off-label' version of the morning-after pill. Women still do this in a pinch.

April 2003
The manufacturer, Barr Laboratories, submits its application to the FDA requesting approval of Plan B for over-the-counter (OTC) use.

December 2003
The FDA advisory board Committee votes 24-3 to recommend the OTC approval.

February 2004
Two months after the vote to recommend, women commit civil disobedience by handing out pills in public in defiance of the prescription requirement. The FDA postpones its decision for another 90 days.

May 2004
The FDA rejects the manufacturer's OTC status application, against the majority recommendation of the advisory committee, stating concerns for the safe use of the drug by women under age 16, even though there is no scientific evidence to support such a claim.

July 2004
The manufacturer says "okay" to the FDA and seeks approval with age restrictions that would make it a "behind the counter drug" (women would have to show ID to get it.)

January 2005
Nine women are arrested outside FDA Headquarters in Rockville, Maryland, trying to meet Steven Galson, the man who rejected the original Barr application. The following week they were to make the final decision on Plan B. The FDA delayed yet again, setting at time to decide for "the near future."

April 2005
Has anyone noticed any action?

Join feminists Tuesday, April 19 at noon at the corner of Univ. Ave. & 13th St.

previous article [current issue] next article
Search | Archives | Calendar | Directory | About / Subscriptions |

Valid HTML 4.01 Transitional eXTReMe Tracker