On: New Emergency Contraception and Access for All

This post has two parts: (1) an update on ella™ and (2) barriers to access for men.

Last Friday, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it was approving the sale and use of ulipristal acetate (UPA), a new form of emergency contraception (EC) to be sold under the name ella™. Already available to and used by women in Europe, UPA has been determined to prevent pregnancy up to 5 days after unprotected intercourse. Emergency contraception has been available in the US, most popularly under the name Plan B. Plan B is available from a doctor or over the counter to women and men age 18 and above and to women 17 and younger with a prescription. UPA/ella’s approval is a win for US women because it’s one more option to help prevent unintended pregnancy. Whether you had unprotected sex in a moment of questionable judgment or your preferred method of birth control failed, you can get your “back up” method of protection in Plan B or ella. I’ve posted about EC before and of course I encourage you to check it out. I want to spend the rest of this entry venting about a twitter exchange I had earlier in the week related to EC.

I am always amazed by and proud of my friends who are young black professionals – doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects, etc. I like that they’re in positions of authority which command respect but more importantly allows them to help others and wield influence. That’s why it bothers me so when I feel that their influence has been misused. When I found out that a pharmacist friend of mine was denying the right of men to purchase EC I was beside myself. Some background might explain why it bothered me so much.

Over-the-counter EC such as Plan B was approved by the FDA to be made available in drugstores and health centers without a prescription for women and men 17 and older. That means if you show proper identification to the pharmacist or pharmacy tech, he/she should hand over the EC. Period. The FDA didn’t make any further distinction about additional circumstances or considerations so there aren’t any. Still, some pharmacists believe they should insert their own judgment where it is not necessary. To summarize what my pharm friend said: a woman needs to come in and buy EC herself or at the very least accompany the man. You don’t want to enable a child molester seeking to destroy evidence (pregnancy) of his crime. You don’t want an angry mother to find the Plan B box and go yelling at the pharmacist. It’s just policy.

Wowsers. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. According to the ACLU,
time is of the essence when accessing emergency contraception. Experts stress that emergency contraception is most effective the sooner a woman takes it, and its effectiveness decreases every 12 hours. It is therefore crucial that a customer can get access to emergency contraception as soon as it is needed. A couple who is trying to quickly access emergency contraception to prevent an unintended pregnancy should be supported by the pharmacy, not shunned.

Exactly. Maybe the woman is at school, work, or tending her children. Perhaps the man is closer to the pharmacy or has the cash on hand. It’s possible she’s embarrassed and knows someone who works the counter. It’s even likely that there is no woman waiting at home to take EC but that the man, being proactive and responsible, wants to buy a package to keep on hand. We tell women all the time that it’s a good idea to keep Plan B in your medicine cabinet as a just-in-case method you hope you don’t have to use. Why shouldn’t the same wisdom apply to men?


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