Not such a pill anymore

A British doctor offers birth control prescriptions online. Are you listening, American docs?

Published June 23, 2008 6:45PM (EDT)

It should come as no surprise that I'm a huge supporter of Planned Parenthood. It does much incredible work, including offering reasonably priced birth control pills and even mailing a pack to one's house each month for a small fee -- which is why I used to go there for just that. For one blissful year, I got to have the Pill show up at my door when I needed it, at a price that didn't make me scream. Then it came time to renew my prescription, which meant scheduling a Pap smear and blood pressure check.

Planned Parenthood clinics everywhere are busy, but my local one is right next to a college campus in a major city (and, I might add, next to one of those scam crisis pregnancy centers -- grrr), so busy doesn't even begin to describe it. Given how much good work P.P. is doing on a tiny budget, I can accept spending a couple of hours in the waiting room there, but that's only if I can get into the waiting room. When I ran out of my last packet on that prescription, I learned there was only one day a month on which I could call to schedule an appointment for the following month, and if I didn't call first thing in the morning, I was likely to find the clinic was already all booked up -- which would mean waiting another month for appointment-scheduling day, with the same risk. I couldn't just go off the Pill indefinitely, and on principle I believe that booking a Pap smear should not be harder than getting tickets to see the Police, so I ended up going to a doctor and getting a new prescription that cost more than twice what I paid for my Planned Parenthood-issued pills. (A choice I, unlike much of its clientele, was fortunate enough to be able to make.)

All of which is a long way of saying I think it's awesome that a doctor in the U.K. is now offering birth control prescriptions online. Says Dr. Thomas Van Every, the one offering this service, "The aim of our new contraceptive service is to make it easier and more convenient for women throughout the UK to get access to the pill. Our specialist service is ideal for a woman living a long way from her GP or a woman who is too busy because of work or childcare to take the time to visit her GP." Or a woman who can't get a freakin' appointment.

There's been some predictable hand-wringing about the possibility of teenagers getting birth control without their parents' knowledge (oh, the humanity!), and of course some doctors are arguing that there's a good reason why an annual blood pressure check is traditionally required to renew a prescription for oral contraceptives: They raise your risk of blood clots and stroke. But as Dr. Beverley Hunt, medical director of the thrombosis charity Lifeblood, points out, pregnancy carries a greater risk of venous thromboembolism than the Pill does, so easier access to birth control for women who want it is actually a good thing in that respect. Hey, I'll buy that. Here's hoping a similar service will be available in the States before my latest Ortho prescription runs out.

Update: Filling prescriptions for the Pill online is possible in the U.S. -- at least in the Pacific Northwest -- via Planned Parenthood, no less! (I knew I loved those folks.) Liz Delapoer, marketing director for Planned Parenthood Columbia/Willamette wrote to tell us about that organization's Online Health Center, where women in Washington and Oregon can begin or refill oral contraceptive prescriptions (as the ads put it, "Get the Pill Without Getting Naked"). Writes Delapoer: "Each patient is required to complete health history information and go through online screening to ensure our patients' safety. After a patient completes the online forms and questions, they are called within one working day by a nurse to confirm the information given and review the health information. The patient is also required to have their blood pressure tested within two months of starting the prescription. Having a complete annual exam, including Pap smear, is recommended by all of our health care professionals but is not a requirement to get the pill." Hot diggity! Now I just have to move to Oregon before my latest Ortho prescription runs out.

By Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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