Backing up birth control
Last week a number of Washington University students participated in Back Up Your Birth Control Day, an event organized by Planned Parenthood to highlight the problem of limited access to emergency contraception (EC), also known as “the morning after pill.” Volunteers throughout the state surveyed pharmacies to determine which ones carry emergency contraception. Of the nine pharmacies closest to campus, I found that six do stock the emergency contraception pill Plan B; this was an extremely high ratio compared to only 31 percent of the 250 Missouri pharmacies contacted last week. Although I was pleased to learn of the many pharmacies in our community that do carry EC, it is clear that there are still many hurdles women face when trying to access this important resource.
Two of the most common reasons pharmacies do not stock Plan B are lack of information about EC and moral objection: a pharmacist I spoke to at Jennifer’s Pharmacy in Clayton claimed she did not know it was out there and that I was the first to ask for it. This is troubling considering Plan B has been FDA-approved for almost five years now.
Another pharmacist at SuperSchnucks on Clayton Rd. responded, “It is not ethical. It prevents the implantation of a fertilized egg and that is abortion.” At first I thought she was confusing EC with RU486, also known as “the abortion pill,” but after further discussion, it became clear that she was imposing a personal, perhaps religious, ideology on a mechanism that is medically defined as contraception, not abortion.
In fact, EC prevents pregnancy the same way as other hormonal contraceptive methods, such as the pill, by delaying ovulation, inhibiting fertilization, or preventing implantation of the fertilized egg in the uterine lining; it will not affect an existing pregnancy. Since EC is a preventative measure, the sooner it is taken after intercourse, the more effective it will be. When taken within 72 hours, it is 75-89% effective. Clearly this is an important back-up for partners whose primary method of birth control has failed, or in instances of unprotected intercourse, including rape.
In Missouri, health care providers are allowed to refuse writing and filling prescriptions for EC due to the “Conscience Clause,” a state law ensuring that people cannot be forced to participate in medical procedures to which they object for reasons of conscience. Unfortunately, this law has serious implications throughout the state of Missouri and here on campus. Recently, there have been reports of students being refused EC over the weekend when fewer staff are on duty. Dr. Glass, the new Director of Student Health Services, expressed a great deal of concern about the issue when I brought it up with him last Wednesday. Although he is still gathering information, Dr. Glass affirmed that “A woman’s right to EC is a basic right and health care on college campuses have an obligation to facilitate that.”
In the meantime, students should be informed about their options. If staff at health services refuse to prescribe or fill EC, ask them to call the Clinical Director or Dr. Glass, who will then write a prescription. To fill the prescription, both Ladue and Olive Schnucks (on the Green Shuttle line) carry Plan B, as well as the Clayton and Olive Walgreens and Williams Pharmacy, located behind Hi-Tech copiers (within walking distance). For more information, go to www.plannedparenthood.org or call 1-888-NOT-2-LATE.
Finally, regarding the pharmacist at Clayton Schnucks, whose rude, moralistic and condescending attitude motivated me to write about this issue, I would encourage students who care about a woman’s right to EC to discontinue any business with her pharmacy. Her comments and beliefs about EC are not founded within the wider medical community, she was rude and unprofessional over the phone, and she viewed student use of EC as “irresponsible,” claiming that throughout her experience in the pharmaceutical industry, she has found that EC is used as a first recourse to pregnancy prevention, not a back up method. This last statement reflects a very negative attitude about students and their capacity for responsible sexual behavior.
This pharmacist’s refusal to supply a perfectly legal form of contraception interferes with a woman’s right to prevent a pregnancy. As a nearby community of consumers that make up a sizable portion of her business, we can let her know that good health care providers facilitate patient access to the full range of legal, medically approved options available, not just those that are personally approved by a provider.
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