A guest post by Gwen Emmons.
Turns out, some pharmacists don’t need an HHS decision to block young women’s access to Plan B. A new study suggests that in some pharmacies, misinformation around emergency contraception (EC) accessibility abounds – particularly in lower-income communities.
Researchers called pharmacies in five major cities to inquire about the availability of Plan B (a helpful flowchart of their script is here). The good news? 80% of them said it was available, up from previous studies (that 20% of pharmacies surveyed said they didn’t carry it – or claimed they didn’t – is still baffling).
The bad news? When the caller claimed to be 17, 19% of pharmacists claimed she couldn’t receive emergency contraception (even with a prescription) – which is false.
But what’s most troubling is that this misinformation was more frequently given by pharmacists in low-income neighborhoods. 23.7% of pharmacies in poorer communities gave the caller the wrong information, compared to 14.6% of pharmacies in higher income communities. Plus, in almost all the calls to these pharmacies, the minimum age for over-the-counter access (17) was incorrectly stated.
Misinformation like this threatens to unnecessarily imperil young women seeking the medical care they deserve. When it comes to EC, the clock is ticking. If a young woman isn’t entirely dissuaded from her interaction with an ill-informed pharmacist, by the time she does receive the correct information, it could be too late for her to take EC.
Couple this with a laundry list of barriers to accessing reproductive health care in poorer communities, and we’ve got a big problem on our hands. We already know that there are gaping disparities in health care access for young women in poor communities – disparities that only widen when it comes to things like receiving accurate and comprehensive sex ed, obtaining contraception, and getting annual exams. Being denied Plan B serves to further marginalize this group of young women. It’s little wonder we’ve seen the rate of unplanned pregnancies among low-income women skyrocket – the very limited window of options available to them is becoming narrower each day.
Contrary to what researchers conclude, their findings aren’t just proof that pharmacists need to be better educated on the rules and restrictions around Plan B. While the restrictions around EC have changed in recent years, it’s a pharmacist’s job – and responsibility – to follow these changes and adjust their practice accordingly. Indeed, many, many pharmacists do just that – but clearly, not enough are.
What it does suggest is that even with looser restrictions on who can access Plan B, barriers still exist, whether they’re due to a lack of awareness or a willful desire to restrict access. Providing Plan B over the counter would eliminate the (potentially unreliable) middleperson, ensuring a product that is safe and sometimes necessary is available to anyone, regardless of her situation, and regardless of what someone thinks they need. While this just adds to the litany of reasons why the Obama Administration’s decision to keep Plan B off the list of medications already available OTC is misguided, I doubt it will do much to reverse their decision. Let’s hope I’m wrong.
I have been very busy the past two weeks. I volunteer with the Abortion Access Network of Arizona. We recently told the abortion providers in Arizona that we’re available to assist their clients. The result has been that our phone has been ringing off the hook. There are currently only two of us handling intake calls. Needless to say, we’re overwhelmed. But the calls reaffirm the work that we’re doing. Here is a snap shot of the women we’ve funded in the past two weeks. (I’ve changed the names of the women to protect their privacy.)
Vanessa is leaving an abusive relationship. Her partner cleaned out their joint bank account when she left him, leaving Vanessa completely broke. She managed to scrape together money to pay for her abortion, but she needed $60 to pay for gas to drive into Phoenix from one of our small rural communities. We were able to help her get the gas money she needed to get back and forth.
Delores was 21 weeks pregnant – bumping right up against the legal limit for abortion in Arizona. She was getting a late term abortion because she didn’t know she was pregnant until 20 weeks. The birth control method she uses eliminates her period. The only clue about pregnancy was the weight gain. We helped Delores pay for her abortion, as well as gave her money for gas and helped connect her with housing, since she, too, had to drive to Phoenix from a small, rural community.
Several of the women who have called are unemployed. They have all told us that they have other children to support and just cannot afford another child right now.
Every one of the women we have spoken to has a different story to tell. But the consistent theme in all of their stories is that they are making a responsible decision about their health, and doing the best they can to support their families. Antis love to portray abortion patients as slutty, irresponsible people who have no thoughts about their decision. That is a blatant lie. Every single one of the people our fund has helped have put a lot of thought into their decision to get an abortion. The fact is that we are in tough economic times, and lots of people are down on their luck. And I’m very grateful that our abortion fund is able to assist folks.
That being said, our fund is already out of money and it’s only the middle of the month. I know that other funds have similar experiences. It’s difficult to tell folks that you can’t help them because you’re out of money. We’re planning monthly fundraisers for the year of 2012, and we’re very excited to participate in NNAF‘s national bowl-a-thon in April. We’re slowly getting more volunteers to join our fund – but I think you can see why we’re feeling overwhelmed. There’s just so much work to do.
If you’re a reader in Arizona and you’d like to help share the work, AANA would love to hear from you. Please visit our website to find out how you can join our team.
If you’ve been volunteering for an abortion fund for a while, how have you dealt with a call when you’ve had to tell a client that your fund is out of money? I would love to hear your stories.
In Canada women have been granted the right to abortion by the Supreme Court of Canada on the basis of the Charter right of security of person. Recently, a case was heard by the SCC, which will see freedom of speech and religion clash with a woman’s right to security of person.
Linda Gibbons is a notorious anti-choice protestor. She would be known as a hardened criminal if she weren’t leading a religious crusade against abortion. She has spent 8-9 years behind bars in various stints over the past 17 years because of her refusal to abide by an injunction that forbids protesting within 150m of Toronto abortion clinics. The ban is an attempt to stop harassment against women who attend these clinics.
Ms. Gibbons appeared before the SCC recently, arguing that the injunctions should be removed so that she can exercise her “rights” to freedom of speech and religion. Her lawyers also argued that using the criminal justice system to enforce the injunction was inappropriate and that the clinics should be forced to pursue Ms. Gibbons in civil court. She believes that the injunction “stifles pro-life activism.” She effectively believes that she has an inalienable right to freedom of speech and that by preventing her from protesting directly out front of the clinics where she can harass the women entering the clinics the government is breaching her rights.
What Ms. Gibbons does not seem to appreciate is that all rights have limits. Her right to freedom of speech and religion are not absolute. The SCC does not place rights in a hierarchy, putting one above the other. This means that they place limits on certain rights to avoid clashes between different rights. This will be another instance where I am certain he SCC will clarify that the right to free speech is limited, namely harassment is not free speech and thus is not protected.
I can only guess what the SCC will say, but I expect that they will stop Ms. Gibbons from harassing patients. They must understand that women accessing legal healthcare have a right to do so in peace. This judgment will be interesting because in New Brunswick, the antis have purchased the property literally next door to the Fredericton Morgentaler Clinic, giving them easy access to patients. The NB government has refused to enact an injunction to push the protestors back, and so clinic escorts are needed to help protect the women. If this SCC judgment comes down limiting the rights of protestors, like I suspect that it will, it will give pro-choice activists in other cities, including Fredericton, the ammunition by which to demand injunctions to keep protestors back.
When this judgment comes down I will write an update.
Oh, and Ms. Gibbons? Thanks to your fight, I now donate $25 per month to Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada. Thank you for the motivation.
You may have learned recently that Michelle Duggar was pregnant for the 20th time. You may have also learned that she recently miscarried a baby girl at 19 weeks who the family has named Jubilee Shalom Duggar. You may have read about the funeral service that they held for Jubilee, or you may have seen these photos (trigger warning: fetus photos) of little Jubilee’s hands and feet being held, gently and carefully, by Michelle.
The Duggar family, specifically Michelle and her daughters, get a lot of flack for the lifestyle choices they’ve made (or, in the case of her daughters, will make) from the general populous. Michelle is derogatorily referred to as “Clown-Car-Uterus” (I kid you not, see the comments here, but only if you feel like losing your faith in humanity), and other people feel content to interpret Michelle’s recent miscarriage as a “sign from God” that the Duggars need to stop having children (contrary to Michelle’s belief that “God giveth, so he shall also taketh away”).
While I, personally, had a negative, visceral reaction to the photos that the family displayed at the funeral service, I don’t want to diminish their grieving. If these photos had not been sold to a tabloid (really, TMZ? shame on you), then no one outside of family and friends would have seen them. They would have remained mementos to mark the passing of a sibling and daughter. And how can anyone disrespect their choice of how to grieve? What I find to be unconscionable was that someone close to the family made money off of their misfortune by selling these to a tabloid.
And I fear how these photos will be used going forward. Anti-choice propaganda is rife with these sorts of images. Some, caring and gentle, like Michelle’s memorial photos, others, bloody and violent. I fear that these photos will go viral and will be used to further a message that I find to be so damaging to women in our society. I fear that someone, somewhere is going to see these triggering images, and feel pain or shame or guilt over her own miscarriage or abortion. I fear the a woman who is looking at her life and considering her choices is going to feel shamed into a choice she doesn’t want to make by these images. I worry about the harm that this image can, and likely will, do.
As someone who has suffered a miscarriage, I can empathize with Michelle and the Duggars need to grieve. I also feel that, as a pro-choice population, we need to support Michelle’s right to choose to continue to get pregnant.
But we can also be cognizant of how the Duggars narrative affects the pro-choice narrative, skewing it in one direction. Michelle is likable and accessible, and she makes the Duggars, as a whole, an easier sell. She discusses her faith and her choices in a very non-defensive, calm manner. She carefully chooses her words and her actions, and she sets a very high standard for other Christian women. And all of this would be well and good if it was reflective of the reality of Christian women. Sadly, the reality for other women can differ drastically from the world the Duggars live in. Not all Christian families can afford, both literally and figuratively, for “God to bless them” so frequently. Jim Bob, Michelle’s husband, is a successful realtor and investor, and they supplement their income with royalties from their reality show (which is not acknowledged by the Duggar family on their website). When questioned about money, they reply that they live frugally. While that is likely true, it doesn’t provide a full picture. Similarly, when asked about her pregnancy difficulties, Michelle replies that, while practice certainly helps, her recent weight loss of 40 lbs has been the most helpful thing. No mention of her struggles with preeclampsia with Josie, born at 25 weeks, and certainly no mention of her most recent miscarriage. And finally, the narrative of the Quiverfull Christian is significantly downplayed on the show. They rarely discuss the dangers of multiparity to Michelle’s health, but when forced to respond, Michelle easily answers by saying that she would give her life for her not-yet-born child. And this may seem like the obvious answer to anti-choice people, but what if a mother wants to be alive to parent her other children? What if the father figure is no longer present? What happens to those already-born children if their mother dies for her pregnancy? The Duggars are lucky enough to have Jim Bob, and the support of their community, family and friends. Not all Christian women are so lucky.
Simply put, the Duggars are not reflective of a typical Christian family, nor are their choices reflective of the options available to most women. However, their choice to have more children is theirs and theirs alone. We can stop supporting tabloids that buy these images; we can stop watching the Duggars show; but we cannot tell Michelle and Jim Bob how and when to reproduce.
I generally don’t acknowledge the haters, the violent threats, and anger in emails and responses to the pro-choice articles and blog posts I have written over the years, but today I feel compelled to respond with a reminder to everyone in the movement, sympathizers and the anti-choice readers: abortion saves lives. Furthermore, threats over email, in comment threads, or to my face won’t make me back down. Pro-choice advocacy isn’t going anywhere, not now, not after so many battles have been won and lost.
A friend of mine just informed me that she and her husband have decided to begin trying for a baby. How amazing for them, and such a happy time, too, because they have both chosen the time that’s right for their family to have a child. Their decision has come after much deliberation, planning, and consideration- probably how it should be for all parents. But as we all know, this isn’t how many children come into this world.
Many pregnancies are unplanned, mine was, and I know first hand the internal and external struggle to make my (emphasis on that word, readers) choice: abortion, adoption, or parent. Ultimately, I chose to stay pregnant and now have the most wonderful seven year old boy. But what if I had another child between his birth and now? Would I still be in college? What would our standard of living be? Do I want to travel? Birth control and abortion have allowed me not to fret about those very real questions. My life is better and consequently, so is my son’s, because I have the option to pursue my goals, dreams, aspirations, and express myself sexually (if I so choose) without having to fear becoming pregnant, and knowing that if by some stroke of bad luck, I became pregnant I would not have to remain if I did not so choose.
That’s the beauty of reproductive freedom: we women don’t have to have our uteri and fallopian tubes chained up in anti-choicer’s dogma. And I think ultimately that’s what drives a lot of the anti-choice vitriol. Because we women dare to imagine a world where our bodies are ours alone, where the organs inside of us don’t dictate what decisions we can make in our lives, where morality is not universal and based upon that same organ.
My life today, the ability to sit here and type this post is a direct result of the advances made by pro-choice advocates throughout the years – before and after Roe v. Wade. Some may say the rights of the cells that could potentially implant themselves inside an organ I was born with but did not ask for are more important than my own, I say no they’re not. Some may feel that because our morals and beliefs do not align I am evil, a murderer, or some other vile thing, I say the work I do and those on this site saves lives of women.
Too many lives are at stake, women’s freedom and quality of life are at risk. And it is that very fact that means this movement, our cause, despite threats will not go away.
Trigger warning for anti-abortion violence, violence against women, gruesome imagery, threats, etc.
Sophia wrote a post a day or two ago about being a Tebow fan and being pro-choice. To reconcile the fact that she loves watching the football player and that he’s anti-choice, she talked about how she’s going to donate to a pro-choice organization every time he scores a touchdown. Who knew that what riles up anti-abortion folks is not the potential to help women and their (already existing) children, but defending a football star and insulting bloggers they’ve never met?
Instead of publishing the dozens of insulting, hateful, and blatantly violent comments and emails we’ve gotten over the last 48 hours, below are some highlights (lowlights, really), in case you had any doubts about what the anti-choice movement is really about: shaming, disrespecting, and hating women.
Some people thought they’d be really smart and donate to their local anti-abortion organization instead. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!
You know what, for every touchdown Tebow scores, I think I’ll donate money to my local pregnancy care centre. Dare to disagree with that, and you’ll expose yourself as the anti-choice people you really are…since if you’re really pro-choice, you should respect my right to donate my money to something that will really help women. GOOOOOOOOOOOO, Tebow!!
Others thought that insulting Sophia and telling us all we should die was the way to get us to change our minds (nope, still doesn’t work).
This is genuinely pathetic in every way. Sophia, you are a pretentious piece of garbage. It pains me that your mother didn’t have enough sense to abort you when she had the chance. I’m sure she’s really proud of you. Get a life, and if you love abortions so much why dont you go f-ck yourself and jam a wire hanger up your snatch.
Definition of anti-abortion respect and kindness there, am I right? Other folks decided to go straight up medical and take us to task for being sluttly abortion lovers.
Who devotes this much time and energy advocating the act of sucking out a human fetus from a woman’s uterus using a vacuum. I don’t mind if you’re pro choice, but my god this is dreadful. You guys must really have a lot going for you. You guys are like abortion addicts. I bet for every one girl participating in this blog there are 7 terminated pregnancies. Nasty ass ho’s. NASTY.
And then there’s the folks who just couldn’t resist getting all World War II on us, claiming that we’re discriminating against Tebow a la Hitler. As a Jew, I get particular joy out of this. You want to make this about the Holocaust? Try me, fools.
You are discriminating against someone who has every right to display his faith, just as you have every right to display yours without prejudice from those around you who would disagree. The hatred oozing from you is astonishing!! Hatred for what!??! Someone who believes in God?? Just because you don’t believe in God doesn’t mean He doesn’t exist…and I daresay one day you will experience the consequences of your lack of faith. I would liken you to Hitler…for your hatred.
And, my personal favorite, the over-reaching Christian who hopes that Jesus saves us all (memo: already too late).
You folks are truely deranged. Does Jesus save? You’ll know for certain a microsecond or so after you cross over from this life into the next. God luck.
Oh anti-abortion folks. Sometimes I wish I could just give you a hug and tell you that it’s all going to be ok. This isn’t a war on Christians, or your beliefs, or your precious Tim Tebow. We are doing the work, God’s work, if you will, that saves women’s lives, strengthens their families, and lets women achieve their hopes and dreams, all while you’re anonymously commenting on a blog post about football. You make our job so easy! Thanks for reminding us who is really on the side of love, kindness, respect, compassion, and justice.
A few years back, the-best-person-and-football-player-on-the-planet, Tim Tebow, the savior from The University of Florida, Heisman Trophy winner, 2010 number 25 draft pick, and now savior quarterback for the Denver Broncos, made a commercial. That in and of itself isn’t that surprising, pro-athletes make commercials for all sorts of reasons. Except he wasn’t selling football gear, he was selling anti-choice propaganda. In his commercial (funded by Focus on the Family) he reminded everyone that his mother was a missionary whose life was threatened by her pregnancy – or more specifically, the pregnancy that would turn into the child who would become the man who would become Tim Tebow.
This line of reasoning is not a new one for anti-choice groups. The message is, “if you abort, just think, that could be the next President of the United States in there, the next scientist that cures cancer, or the next greatest football player alive!” In Tebow, the gifted athlete and vocal Christian, anti-choice groups found their perfect hero to prop up; if his mother had done what abortion groups say is acceptable – had an abortion to save her own life- Tebow would not be alive. Never mind the fact that Tebow’s mother made the decision despite the risk to her health for herself – something denied to women seeking or supporting abortion- it is clear to everyone (or should be , anyway) with a brain that 99.9% of the fetuses gestating right now are not , in fact, going to become gifted athletes like Tim Tebow.
Tying this together with Tebow’s recent great play: he’s been ballin’ out of his backside for weeks on end. Even I, the anti-Tebow, anti-Bronco fan, basketball-loving woman that I am, have been rooting for him. Yeah, he’s that damn good. But it always feels a bit, well, wrong. How can I support a guy that’s openly anti-choice? This is the same man that used the Super Bowl to a) build his reputation and brand as the saintliest saint of an athlete that ever lived, and b) raise money for an anti-choice organization that would deny the right to abortion to millions of women that need it. Yuck.
So here is my solution, and if you’re a sports fan that also thinks women should be able to do what they want, when they want, and how they want it with their uteri, you can join in this too. For every touchdown Tebow throws next week (when the Broncos play against another famous QB, Tom Brady) , donate $5 or $10 to your local pro-choice organization. If the Broncos make the playoffs (I haven’t checked if that’s even a possibility at this point), I plan to continue the pledge.
I figure this is indeed the best way to enjoy football, support Tim Tebow (more touchdowns, mannn!!!), and give , give, give to pro-choice organizations earning little to no glory, yet desperately in need of funds.
The point is, things ARE happening up here! In Prince Edward Island, the only province where there are no abortion services whatsoever, activists are speaking up about it. The last few weeks have been a flurry of news and activity around PEI – population just over 140,000 – as the long-simmering abortion debate exploded.
Let me catch you up. Abortion is legal in Canada: or, more accurately, no abortion law exists. So while technically there is nothing illegal about seeking an abortion up to the moment of birth, because doctors tend to self-regulate, you will not find a doctor who will perform an abortion after 24 weeks gestation. Most late-term abortions are referred to the US, in fact.
Because health care is provincial jurisdiction, some provinces have taken it upon themselves to hamper access to abortion in super fun ways that are almost always illegal, but which no government is keen to touch because of the divisive nature of the issue. The clearest example of this is in New Brunswick, where someone seeking abortion cannot have the procedure covered by Medicare unless it is performed in a hospital, with referrals from two doctors. A lawsuit against the province over this has been in bureaucratic purgatory for several years.
In PEI (a neighbour to New Brunswick, and one of the eastern provinces in a cluster we call the Maritimes), the situation is more dire. There are literally no abortion services available. If you need an abortion and you live in PEI, you basically have two choices: 1. Drive/fly to Fredericton (NB) and pay out of pocket for an abortion in the private clinic there (currently ranging from $600 to $800), or 2. Drive/fly to Halifax (Nova Scotia) to have it performed at the hospital, where it will be covered by Medicare thanks to a reciprocal billing agreement between the two provinces.
There are a lot of barriers to accessing an abortion from PEI then; the main one being geographical. If you need an abortion, you have to get off the island. Which is completely unacceptable, and now the people of PEI and their allies are speaking out.
A newly formed group called PEI Reproductive Rights Organization held a rally a few weeks ago at the provincial legislature in Charlottetown, attracting about 150 supporters. As someone who spent three years organizing pro-choicers in New Brunswick, I can tell you that 150 people is a wildly impressive number considering the population, socially conservative values, and apathetic climate of that region. People care about this issue: it is urgent.
Yesterday, the US Department of Health and Human Services announced that they are blocking Plan B from being sold on pharmacy shelves to whoever needs it. This goes against FDA recommendations to remove all restrictions to accessing Plan B, including lifting age restrictions and requiring Plan B to be sold on pharmacy shelves instead of behind-the-counter.
Plan B One-Step is a brand of morning after pill, which works the same way as birth control pills to prevent pregnancy. It’s more effective the earlier it’s taken, but can be taken up to 72 hours after sex. Plan B cannot terminate a pregnancy- -it is not an abortion pill. Plan B is currently available over the counter to people 17 years old and older. Anyone under 17 must go to the doctor and get a prescription before they can get Plan B.
Plan B is extremely safe, and as the FDA’s approval has shown, there is no reason for it to be locked away. A report released this month makes this clear, stating that “no deaths or serious complications have been causally links to emergency contraceptive. According to the U.S. Medical Eligibility Criteria for Contraceptive Use, there are no situations in which the risks of using [emergency contraceptive pills] outweigh the benefits.” Compare that to the 450 deaths from liver failure in 2004 due to an overdose of acetaminophen,the drug found in Tylenol. And yet walk into any pharmacy and you’ll find Tylenol available over the counter.
Although it’s clear that Plan B is safe for women and girls of all ages, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled the FDA’s medically-based, scientifically accurate decision. In her very brief memorandum, Secretary Sebelius claims to worry about the 10% of girls who begin ovulating by 11.1 years old. Yet she doesn’t seem to suggest a problem of health, but instead “significant cognitive and behavioral differences between older adolescent girls and the youngest girls of reproductive age.” It seems that she is suggesting that young teens would not understand how to use Plan B, or that they would not act in a mature enough manner for Plan B.
This attitude is extremely condescending. No one fears that teenagers, even young teenagers, will not know how to use or will misuse Tylenol or Benadryl or Aleve, and thus should not have access to them. Even more damning is that condoms ARE available on the shelves. If we can trust people of any age to buy condoms, why can’t we trust them to buy Plan B? I am willing to bet that anyone 12, 13, or 14 years old who is going into a drugstore to buy Plan B is buying it because they need it. Young teens can’t drive and often don’t have large disposable incomes, so many would be purchasing Plan B with the help of their parents, older sibling, or friend. And if you don’t live in a city with easy public transportation, it takes a lot of effort for someone under the legal driving age to get to a drugstore without their parent’s knowledge; this is not something you’d do on a dare.
Young teenagers know about sex. They see it in our media, they hear about it in school (despite abstinence-only efforts) and they learn about it from their parents or friends. Plan B is a time sensitive medicine that is used after something has gone wrong. Whether that something is rape, a broken condom, or drunken, unprotected sex is important, but not so important as to block access to Plan B. If we’re worried about the “cognitive and behavioral differences” of young teens, we need to work on putting comprehensive sex education into schools, not taking away access to a safe medication.
It’s hard to understand how the Secretary thought there was good reason to contradict the FDA, especially when many clinicians, members of Congress, reproductive rights advocates and healthcare professionals saw no evidence to prevent Plan B from being over-the-counter. In fact, the effort to make emergency contraception available to all people of reproductive age started six years ago. In 2005, Susan Wood resigned from the FDA because of delays in approving Plan B over the counter. Today, she’s quoted in the Washington Post, saying:
“There is no rationale that can justify HHS reaching in and overturning the FDA on the decision about this safe and effective contraception. I never thought I’d see this happen again.”