Today is the annual Back Up Your Birth Control Day of Action, sponsored by our friends at the National Institute for Reproductive Health, encouraging people to get the facts about emergency contraception, dispel anti-choice misinformation about EC, and make sure they know how to “back up their birth control”!
Emergency contraception (also known as the “morning-after pill,” or by brand names like Plan B, Next Choice, or ella), is a hormonal birth control medication designed to be taken up to 3-5 days after unprotected sex. EC works to prevent pregnancy by preventing ovulation or fertilization, and will not have an effect once a woman is already pregnant. It is meant to be used as a back up in emergency situations (such as when a condom breaks, a birth control pill is missed, or a person is forced to have unprotected sex), not as a replacement for a primary birth control method. Most brands of emergency contraception can be legally obtained at pharmacies without a prescription by people 17 and older (yes, all people — men can buy it for a woman as well!).
EC is an incredibly important tool in our fight to reduce unintended pregnancies and give women better control over their reproductive health and lives, and it’s critical that we make sure it’s available to all women who need it. Anti-choice groups and politicians, however, don’t like emergency contraception any more than they do regular birth control, and they repeatedly push back at attempts to make EC more readily available. In fact, they often spread misinformation about emergency contraception and conflate it with medical abortion, which it is not. They continually use politics to halt medical and public health progress on the issue.
Emergency contraception is a relatively new option, and due to lack of information and the active misinformation by anti-choicers, many women unfortunately don’t understand EC or their rights in obtaining it. Even more troubling, it’s become clear that many medical professionals don’t understand it either!
In 2010, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia Foundation undertook a project to investigate emergency contraception access at Virginia pharmacies, and our results were troubling. Not only did we find that many pharmacies did not have EC in stock, we found that many pharmacists and staff members actively gave inaccurate information to callers about how EC works and who can legally obtain it.
We haven’t been alone in these findings. A recently published study by the researchers at the Boston Medical Center found that as many as 1 in 5 pharmacies was inaccurately telling 17-year olds that they could not legally obtain EC without a prescription. They also had similar results to our findings that pharmacy staff who said they did not have EC in stock were not helpful in giving the caller suggestions of how they might obtain it.
This is a serious problem for women’s health and rights. So what can you do to help? Know the facts about how emergency contraception works, know your rights, and spread the word!
- Visit the “Emergency Contraception” issue page on the NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia website.
- Check out the Back Up Your Birth Control page for lots of information and resources.
- Read the Back Up Your Birth Control Day series of posts on RHRealityCheck.com.
- Share information with your friends and family to make sure they’re in the know too.
- Check to see if your local pharmacy stocks emergency contraception — and consider backing up your own birth control by purchasing some if you need to! Let us know about any of your experiences with obtaining EC at Virginia pharmacies by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.