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March 25, 2009

Back Up Your Birth Control Day of Action

Today is the annual Back Up Your Birth Control Day of Action! This year we're doing a slightly revised and updated version of the emergency contraception Q&A that we did back in 2007. Even though it's now been a few years since EC was approved for over-the-counter sale, research still shows that there are a lot of people who don't know what EC is, what it does, and where to get it. So this is a "day of action" where something really simple like talking to a friend or showing your support for the campaign on facebook or myspace can have an impact, and it's much easier to get educated about emergency contraception before you actually find yourself in a position to need it.

Back Up Your Birth Control? What does that mean?

The Back Up Your Birth Control Campaign is designed to raise awareness about emergency contraception (also called "EC" or "the morning-after-pill"), a safe and effective method of back up birth control.

So what exactly is EC anyway?

EC pills contain higher dosages of the same hormones that are found in regular birth control pills. They are meant to be taken within 5 days (120 hours) after unprotected sex or failure of birth control, although they are more effective the sooner they are taken, and they can reduce the risk of pregnancy by about 90%. The brand of EC available in the U.S. is called Plan B. It is also possible to use some brands of regular birth control pills in specific doses to produce the same effect as Plan B.

Is this the same thing as the abortion pill?

EC is not the same as Mifeprex or RU-486, a drug that terminates early pregnancies. EC is designed to prevent ovulation, fertilization, or implantation of a fertilized egg. It does not terminate a pregnancy. If you are already pregnant, EC will not work.

And this really works? Safely?

Research has shown that EC is both safe and effective, and generally produces only mild side effects such as headache and nausea. A full report on EC, including information about its safety and effectiveness, can be found here. Most health care professionals seem to be in agreement that EC is safe, and that EC poses fewer risks for both teens and adult women than unintended pregnancy. (And by preventing thousands of unplanned pregnancies each year, EC can help reduce risks to women's health, cut health care costs, and also reduce the need for abortion services.)

Don't I need a prescription for this?

In August of 2006 the FDA (finally!) approved over-the-counter sales of EC. There's one catch though--OTC sales were approved for adult women only. Girls under 18 still must get a prescription in some states. But this may all change very soon thanks to a recent court decision:

"New York District Court Judge ruled yesterday that the FDA must reconsider its 2006 ruling that allowed emergency contraception (EC), also known as Plan B, to be sold without a prescription to women 18 and older. The ruling (see PDF) also specifically orders Barr Pharmaceuticals, which distributes Plan B, to make EC available over-the-counter to women as young as 17 within 30 days."

Basically the judge found that the FDA's decision-making process on EC approval was heavy on "political considerations, delays, and implausible justifications" and light on actual science and facts and logic. But with the FDA under new leadership thanks to the Obama administration, there's now hope that this will be reconsidered in a way that makes more sense. Of course, as important as this ruling is, it's just as important that teenagers are actually aware of what's going on, so spread the word.

Why don't I hear more about EC? This information really needs to be out there!

Because then everyone would be as evil and slutty as we are, and we wouldn't have an excuse to run this blog.

Seriously, information about EC should be more widely available and accessible. That's why campaigns like Back Up Your Birth Control are so important, and deserve your support. Get involved!

So how do I get EC if I need it?

That depends on how old you are and where you are.

  • Women who are 18 and older can purchase EC over-the-counter at the pharmacy. You'll need to present a valid government ID. If you're 17, stay tuned to the outcome of the recent judge's ruling we mentioned above, because you may also be able to get EC over-the-counter soon.
  • Women under the age of 18 living in certain states need a prescription for EC from their doctor or other health care provider. (See the point below to determine what the law is in the state that you live in.) Many doctors require an office visit before they will give you a prescription, but some will handle it for you over the phone.
  • Women of all ages in the following states can purchase EC over-the-counter at some pharmacies thanks to pharmacy access legislation: AK, CA, HI, MA, ME, NH, NM, VT and WA.
  • To find a provider near you, visit www.not-2-late.com. You can also make a confidential call to 1-888-NOT-2-LATE (1-866-EN-TRES-DIAS for Spanish) 24 hours a day.
For more information, visit www.ec-help.org and www.backupyourbirthcontrol.org. And make sure that all of the women in your life have the information that they need about all of their birth control options.


Dollface said...

I've used Plan B once, and only experienced mild side effects. A few of my friends have used it as well. Of course, it's still smart to use appropriate protection at all times. However, I support Plan B being available over the counter...it's definitely cheaper than an abortion.

Anonymous said...

Two things:

1. When discussing how to purchase it, you only mentioned women. Was that an artifact of the post's intended audience, or is there some odd reason men aren't allowed to buy it for their girlfriends?

2. You said that Plan B will prevent implantation of the fertilized egg. Doesn't that make it slightly misleading to advertise it as non-abortive, since the pro-life crowd claim that life begins as conception and that the zygote is a human being?

Jezebel said...


1. I only mentioned women probably partly because of 'intended/likely audience', but also because I think I was assuming that since you need to show ID to purchase EC, it might need to be purchased by the person who was actually taking it. But I just double checked and that's not true - EC can be purchased by men or women, and men just need to go through the same process of showing ID.

2. As you probably know, just because the "pro-life crowd" makes a claim, that doesn't mean it's true or scientific or universally accepted. I understand the 'life begins with a fertilized egg' argument, but I don't agree with it and neither do many other people. Also, preventing implantation isn't the only way that Plan B can work - it may also prevent ovulation or fertilization, and I really can't see labeling those situations as "abortive".

And aside from this argument about what Plan B does and doesn't do, it's important to make sure that people know that Plan B and RU-486 (the "abortion pill") are two totally different things that shouldn't be confused but often are.

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