photo of sara and jen taken by diana arens, from wip website
In 2006 a group of people in Olympia, WA started a boycott (grrlcot) of Ralph's Thriftway, a locally-owned grocery store with a pharmacy that refuses to stock Plan B, a form of emergency contraception (EC). Five years later the boycott is still going strong and the legal case, Stormans v. Selecky, is going to the U.S. District Court.
A recent article in The Olympian by Brad Shannon reads:
Those who support the dispensing of Plan B say it is a high dose of the ingredients of a birth-control pill that greatly reduces the chance of pregnancy if ingested by a woman within 72 hours of unprotected sex. The Food and Drug Administration in 2009 ordered that it be available over the counter for teens as young as 17, but with prescriptions for those who are younger.
The FDA also says the medication does not affect existing pregnancies, unlike the RU-486 drug, but that the medication might act to prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb.
This is poorly worded and misleading. As I noted in an earlier article (written in 2006 for a class I was taking and posted online in 2009), once again, science is being framed by "pro-life" ideology in our local newspaper.
The Olympian says "those who support the dispensing of Plan B say" it works like regular birth control pills. This is not a matter of debate. This is the established medical explanation of how the drug actually works. It is a form of contraception. It is not an abortion pill. This article makes it sound like the scientific definition of medicine is subjective. Consult the World Health Organization, the FDA, the CDC and current peer-reviewed medical journals for a more objective account. If you are anti-Plan B, you logically should be anti-birth control pill, it works the same way.
The medical definition of a pregnancy is a fertilized egg that is implanted in the womb. By this definition, Plan B is birth control NOT abortion. This is true regardless of whether or not Plan B prevents a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb. The newspaper needs to make this clear and not pander to there being "two opinions" with equal weight when there are established legal and medical definitions at work.
As I noted before, there is no conclusive medical research that proves that Plan B prevents an already fertilized egg from implanting. To focus on the possibility that it MAY work this way when this is not backed by science is confusing at best and biased in the way it reinforces the "pro-life" agenda of confusing birth control with "abortion".
Finally, Plan B will not work if you are already pregnant when you take it. Medical research does not back the claim that it will effect a fertilized egg that has been implanted. Plan B is a legal form of birth control. It is not an abortion pill.
If you believe pregnancy starts when an egg is fertilized (not when a fertilized egg is implanted in the womb) and this is a moral issue for you then, based on a scientific understanding of how emergency contraception works, your objection to the use of Plan B should probably extend to the use of regular birth control pills and *possibly* IUD's.
From the Emergency Contraception website:
To make an informed choice, women must know that ECPs—like all regular hormonal contraceptives such as the birth control pill, the implant Implanon, the vaginal ring NuvaRing, the Evra patch, and the injectable Depo-Provera,41 and even breastfeeding42,43,44,45— prevent pregnancy primarily by delaying or inhibiting ovulation and inhibiting fertilization, but may at times inhibit implantation of a fertilized egg in the endometrium. At the same time, however, all women should be informed that the best available evidence is consistent with the hypothesis that levonorgestrel and ulipristal acetate ECPs’ ability to prevent pregnancy can be fully accounted for by mechanisms that do not involve interference with post-fertilization events.
Emergency contraceptive pills will not cause an abortion. EC is not the same as the abortion pill. There is no time when the emergency contraceptive pills available in the United States would end a pregnancy once it has started. Hormonal emergency contraceptive pills don’t have any effect if you are already pregnant. If you decide to use an IUD for emergency contraception, your health care provider would test you first to confirm you are not already pregnant.
It will be interesting to see what happens with this case. It is likely to go to the Supreme Court. I have not been able to shop at my neighborhood grocery store for over five years because I support the boycott. This is something that impacts me on a daily basis.
Here is some more info I gathered in my research on Plan B back in 2006:
The right wing campaign against Plan B is anti-birth control not just
anti-abortion. They specifically see Plan B as immoral because they are
worried it will promote promiscuity and sex before marriage,
particularly among young people. These are the same people who argue
against condoms and want abstinence only education.
Studies show that Plan B has the potential to prevent 700,000
abortions a year. If lowering the number of abortions is really the
issue, Plan B should be made readily available.
A high percentage of rape victims use Plan B.
According to both sides of the issue, there is no medical reason to
require a prescription for Plan B. The FDA ruled that it is medically
safe. Lawmakers ignored the FDA advisory board in 2004 and were
persuaded by anti-abortion politicians to keep it available by
prescription only. This caused all kinds of controversies about science
v. politics/religion that have been widely documented in peer reviewed
In Washington State some pharmacies (such as those in Safeway and Fred
Meyer) will give you Plan B without a personal prescription--they have a
general prescription that can be used--you don't have to see a doctor
first. This is called a "protocol".
If Plan B is legal but hard to get it is less effective. You
need to take it within 72 hours after sex or it won't work: like regular birth control pills, it is MOST effective when taken BEFORE sex.
Only 60% of Americans know Plan B even exists as an option.
For further research:
Page, Cristina. How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America. New York: Basic, 2006.
If you need access to Plan B or another form of EC, check out this website.
Protesters demand birth control. (Photo by Krista Theiss)