Emergency Contraception


hen Annie Tummino went on
vacation two years ago, she forgot to take her birth control pills
for several days. Despite three summers interning at the National
Organization for Women (NOW) in New York and a post-college year
as a counselor at Planned Parenthood of Western Massachusetts, she
was terrified, desperate to get hold of the Morning After Pill (MAP). 

“I was really freaking out,” Tummino recalls. “Luckily,
when I looked online I found www.not-2- late.com, a hotline run
by doctors. I contacted them and after a five- minute conversation
with a counselor, they called in a prescription for Plan B Emergency
Contraception [EC]. A few hours after contacting them, I went to
the drug store, picked up two pills, and took them. I know I was
lucky to get the pills, but it showed me how much crap and panic
and how much rearranging of life goes on when the Morning After
Pill is not available over the counter [OTC].” 

At the time of her pregnancy scare, Tummino was already a seasoned
activist. She had been involved in New York state NOW’s Reproductive
Rights Task Force since 2003 and had participated in civil disobedience
in support of OTC MAP access. Later, following leadership changes
in NOW, she joined the Women’s Liberation Birth Control Project
(WLBCP), part of the Morning After Pill Conspiracy. 

Conspirators including WLBCP; Gainesville, Florida NOW’s Young
Feminist Task Force; Gainesville Women’s Liberation; Utah NOW’s
Young Feminist Task Force; and others have organized demonstrations,
sit-ins, and speak-outs and have risked arrest to hand out emergency
contraception to women desiring it. 

Emergency Contraception (or EC, a term used interchangeably with
the Morning After Pill) was approved by the Food and Drug Administration
in 1999 and has been available by prescription throughout the U.S.
since then. According to MayoClinic.com, “Human conception
rarely occurs immediately after intercourse. Instead, it occurs
as long as several days later, after ovulation. During the time
between intercourse and conception, sperm travels through the fallopian
tube until the egg appears.” EC prevents sperm from reaching
the egg and keeps the fertilized egg from attaching to the uterine
wall if it is taken within 72-hours of having unprotected sex. 

In the nearly seven years since the FDA approved doctor-dispensed
EC, several states (Alaska, California, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire,
New Mexico, and Washington) have made it available without a prescription.
Sadly, even in these places, access remains limited. According to
Carol Cox, a spokesperson for Barr Pharma- ceuticals, owners of
the patent for Plan B, one of the most popular forms of EC, “Pharmacy
laws vary from state to state and the Board of Pharmacy in each
place decides what it will do. In each of the locations where it
is available without a prescription, the state requires pharmacists
to attend training seminars and be certified before they can give
it out. This means that not every pharmacy in a particular state
will be able to distribute EC. In most places the pharmacist learns
the questions to ask to make sure the woman is a good candidate
for the pills. In no state can a woman get EC without the Q and
A. If EC was sold over the counter, the woman would not need to
talk to a pharmacist or get a prescription. She would just pick
it up, read the package, take the pills, and not have to worry about
unwanted pregnancy.” 

EC is available in 102 countries, Cox adds, 34 of which sell it
over the counter—something more than 70 U.S. groups, including
the American Public Health Association, the American Medical Association,
the National Black Women’s Health Project, and the Planned
Parenthood Federation of America support. These groups have petitioned
the FDA to make the drug available for women in the U.S. 

early 2005 the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a federal lawsuit
on behalf of the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals,
the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, and nine
individuals from the Morning After Pill Conspiracy. The lawsuit
seeks to make Plan B available over the counter for women of all

The petitioners in the case,

Tummino v. von Eschenbach

, argue
that, “Limiting EC to prescription use is not necessary for
the protection of public health…. Its administration is simple
and relies only on assessment as to time elapsed since sexual intercourse….
The condition that EC treats—contraceptive failure or the failure
to use contraception during intercourse—is one that is readily
diagnosable by a woman.” 

This is true, Tummino states, regardless of whether the woman is
a teenager, young adult, or middle-aged. “The right-wing has
said that OTC access will encourage teens to have random, unprotected
sex. But the MAP Conspiracy believes that if you are old enough
to get pregnant you are old enough to decide not to have a baby.
Putting age restrictions on access puts a behind-the-counter status
on it. If you look young will you be carded by a pharmacist to get
the birth control you need? Having to ask for EC puts all women
in a bad position. It makes EC seem sleazy.” 

While the plaintiffs were in court in late December, the case could
take years to resolve. This is why the Morning After Pill Conspiracy
is continuing to pressure the FDA. “Historically, all legal
changes in this country have been made by strong, grassroots people’s
movements,” says petitioner’s attorney Andrea Costello
of Southern Legal Counsel. “The law follows what the people
demand. I’ve seen a groundswell of support from regular women
across the country who need OTC access to EC. They understand that
the anti-reproductive rights politics of this Administration are
the real reason MAP is being withheld.”

J. Bader is a freelance journalist and co-author of

of Hatred