Plan B access? What Plan B access?

A blogger chronicles her weekend-long search for emergency contraception.

Published September 22, 2006 8:24PM (EDT)

Thanks to numerous Broadsheet readers for tipping us off to a sad and terrifying account of an Ohio woman's quest for emergency contraception. BB of Den of the Biting Beaver spent the whole of last weekend unsuccessfully searching for Plan B after a condom broke during sex. She was unworried at first -- after all, we all loudly celebrated the Food and Drug Administration's approval of over-the-counter access to Plan B earlier this year. But when she called her local pharmacy, she was told that it wouldn't carry Plan B until the start of next year.

BB called her doctor, who instructed her to visit the emergency room; when she called the E.R., a nurse warned her that she would have to "meet the doctor's criteria before he'll dispense it." Then the nurse tactlessly inquired whether she was raped and if she was married. As an unmarried woman who had engaged in consensual sex, BB was unlikely to beat the hospital's narrow criteria and senseless red tape: "The problem is that we have 4 doctors here right now but only one of them ever writes [emergency contraception] prescriptions," the nurse told her. "But see, the thing is that he'll interview you and see if you meet his criteria ... there's really no harm in trying."

Discouraged, BB called her local urgent care center. As the nurse there told her, "We don't prescribe the abortion pill here." (A reminder for anyone who may have missed the memo: Plan B is not abortion! For a handy disambiguation of the two processes, go here.) The nearby Planned Parenthood offices were closed. BB says she called every hospital within reasonable driving distance and learned that the local facilities either wouldn't prescribe the pill or required a lengthy screening process like the first hospital she called. One nurse even qualified a doctor's screening criteria for dispensing E.C. as "kind of old-fashioned." Even if she'd tried to persuade a reluctant hospital doc, the copay for seeing a physician was unaffordable, especially considering her visit would likely be futile. By way of a tip from a fellow blogger on Monday, BB finally found a clinic -- more than an hour's drive away -- that would provide her with Plan B. Already a mother of three, she has no idea at this point whether she managed to prevent a pregnancy, since the sooner Plan B is taken, the more effective it is.

First and foremost, BB's troubles call attention to what should be considered criminal institutional barriers to legal emergency contraception. But almost as startling is the way that even staunch supporters of over-the-counter Plan B access are edged into qualifying a woman's right to take the pill. The governing rhetoric is that rape victims are most deserving, followed by married women; single women aren't deserving at all. "I found that the more hospitals and clinics and doctors I called the more ashamed I became," BB wrote. "Yep, you heard right. I was feeling ashamed at being such an unworthy dirty whore."

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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