Plan B: Broken Hopes and Awkward Transactions

by Sora Leigh

Time for a deep dive into the “morning after” pill. The topic was not plan A for today’s post, but hey, that’s life.

First, let me say that I am approaching almost 10 years of what researchers term “perfect condom usage,” of which I am quite proud. Yes, this has sometimes been inconvenient, requiring speedy trips to the pharmacy before closing or at times forgoing intimacy altogether. So when I found myself at the pharmacy on Saturday morning after the condom broke, it was truly my plan B, pun intended.

I have a few gripes about how the actual transaction went down.

#1 Plan B Was Not On The Shelf

After a quick look around, I realized I wasn’t going to find what I was searching for on the shelf. I approached the counter, and when the pharmacist asked what I needed, I announced, “Plan B,” loud enough for her, and essentially everyone else in the pharmacy to hear. While this wasn’t a huge deal for me personally–I’m not embarrassed about being a sexually active adult–it still seemed unnecessary, especially for a pharmaceutical that doesn’t require a prescription. It is nobody’s business but my own what drugs I buy at the pharmacy. I can imagine that another womyn might have been deterred from making this over-the-counter purchase in order to preserve her privacy.

#2 The Pharmacist Carded Me

Anytime my state identification comes into play, I begin to worry about my privacy. Is this truly an anonymous transaction? More importantly, I was a shocked to find that if I had not met the age requirement I would not have been able to walk out with the Plan B I needed. “Does South Dakota want to prevent unwanted pregnancy or not?” I asked, beginning to feel a bit snarky about th situation.

“It’s just the rule,” the pharmacist countered, nonconfrontationally.

In 2013, the FDA lowered the over-the-counter age to 15, but state regulations vary. I checked this handy map tool to find out the laws in South Dakota. If this information is accurate, a person of any age can buy Plan B One Step, the pharmaceutical I purchased, which means that carding me was unlawful. The law as it pertains to emergency contraception seem unnecessarily complex, as reported by Sex Etc.:

People of any age can buy Plan B One-Step without a prescription over the counter at a local pharmacy. Next Choice, Next Choice One Dose, My Way and Levonorgestrel are approved for sale without a prescription to those who are 17 and older from a pharmacist. If you are 16 or younger, you will need a prescription for Next Choice, Next Choice One Dose, My Way and Levonorgestrel. The EC pill ella is only available with a prescription regardless of age. Prices may vary for each of these options depending on the brand, the pharmacy and which state you are in.

If you have been raped and you want EC, go to the emergency department of a hospital or call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673). Open 24 hours, the hotline will connect you to EC providers near you. For other helpful information, check out the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network’s website.

#3 My Pocket is $55 Lighter 

I had to take a deep breath when she rang up my purchase. The only other time I was in need of Plan B, I purchased it for $25. But, unlike other pharmaceuticals, the price has steadily risen, not dropped over time. The market is, admittedly, totally cornered. If you need Plan B, you need it now, and you may not have time to shop around. It’s a lucrative business according to the Huffington Post:

The price is a result of market forces, company interest and profit,” Elizabeth Gay, a program director at the Reproductive Health Technologies Project, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing reproductive freedom, tells Bustle. “I think that’s something women’s health advocates need to address in the future… The cheapest generic, AfterPill, an emergency contraceptive only available online, is only $20, which is probably an indication that the product doesn’t need to be $50.

While $55 might not seem like much, this could be a prohibitive cost for womyn and teens living in or near poverty. In rural areas, finding a ride to the pharmacy can be difficult, and individual pharmacies are not required to carry emergency contraception. I consider these and other barriers to obtaining birth control to be a human rights issue due to the implications of unwanted pregnancy, especially pregnancy that results from rape or incest.

Despite my annoyance, obtaining Plan B was a relatively straight trajectory this Saturday. My partner and I drove to the first pharmacy we saw, I bought the pill, and ingested it five minutes later. This is important because Plan B is more effective the sooner it is consumed. What if I had been a rape survivor, an underage teenager, or both? A little bit of research showed that the waters can become quite murky. I was surprised to learn that not every state has laws protecting womyn’s access to contraception at the hospital.  The 2005 Women’s News article Some Hospitals Withhold Plan B After Rape reports that:

Less than 40 percent of hospitals in 11 states surveyed provided Plan B on site to rape survivors, a 2005 report by the New York-based American Civil Liberties Union found.

Reasons for not providing contraception include religious withholding in some Catholic Hospitals, not having the drug in stock, or requiring independent physician’s prescription and/or having an independent pharmacist fill the hospital’s prescription. These requirements seems like cruel circus-antics in the aftermath of a sexual assault.

Finally, this post wouldn’t be complete without a look into the side effects and efficacy of emergency contraception. It’s always a good idea to check up on any pharmaceutical. WebMD provided the information I was looking for. I was surprised to learn that Plan B may be ineffective for womyn over 165 (the average womyn), though other options exist for these ladies including prescription-only Ella and IUD’s.

oops

I wasn’t psyched about the list of side effects including vomiting and dizziness, but everything seemed to go off without a hitch. Having my cycle disrupted is not too fun, as I am at risk of bleeding early or later than normal. This, however, is par for the course.

Looking for your own Plan B stories. Please comment and share.

 

 

 

 

 

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