Fight for 'Morning After' Pill Access Continues

One year after approval for sale over-the-counter, some pharmacies still don't stock emergency contraception

Aug. 24 was the one-year anniversary of the federal government's decision to allow over-the-counter sales of emergency contraception (the so-called "morning after" pill) to women 18 and older. The fight to ­achieve OTC status for emergency contraception – a higher-than-normal dose of regular birth-control pills that, when taken within 120 hours of unprotected sex, can prevent pregnancy – lasted more than three years, with ideology and science slugging it out over at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. FDA science advisers long agreed that EC should be made available to women without a prescription, but in May 2004, then-FDA-administrator Mark McClellan rejected their recommendation – a move that prompted at least two agency officials to resign their posts.

Over the last year alone, Planned Parenthood has provided EC to more than 1.2 million women, Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards said in a press release. Reproductive-health advocates note there are still access issues, however: EC is not approved for OTC sales to teens, and, although legal, there are still pharmacies that refuse to stock EC for customers.

"The federal approval of over-the-counter distribution of [emergency contraception] has not stopped rogue pharmacists from infringing upon the rights of women," said Sara Cleveland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, in a press release. "Anti-choice pharmacists are refusing to dispense the medication. Even in our own state some stores refuse to stock EC at all."

In a large state like Texas, where many small communities are linked by swaths of rural nothingness, access to EC can be an issue – in the West Texas town of Fabens, for example, the lone pharmacy (a Medicine Shoppe) refuses to stock emergency birth control (or, for that matter, any birth-control pills except in "certain circumstances"), said Laurie Felker Jones, NARAL Pro-Choice Texas political director, meaning women seeking preventative EC must travel to El Paso, 30 miles away.

"If lawmakers are serious about reducing the need for abortion in Texas, we must work together to help prevent unintended pregnancy through commonsense solutions" – like access to EC, Cleveland said.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

emergency contraceptives, NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, Laurie Felker Jones, Sara Cleveland, FDA

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