Sisterhood Blog

Plan B Is Free, But Stigma Remains

By Sarah Seltzer

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After years of cajoling, protesting, advocating and pleading from women’s health advocates, Plan B, the most commonly-used brand of emergency contraception, has been released from legal limbo. Hopefully this morning after pill will now be able to spend the rest of its days in the friendlier, more accessible haven of the pharmacy shelf rather than behind the counter.

This victory only came after Edward Korman, a Reagan-appointed judge, slammed the Obama administration for stonewalling and politicizing the issue after the FDA’s recommendation that the pill be available to women regardless of ability to furnish proof of age. The administration, loath to appeal the ruling further and alienate its base, caved.

I’ve been following the story here at the Sisterhood, continually baffled that a supposedly pro-science administration would embrace the conservative position on an issue of reproductive health. Should we credit this moment to the Obama administration finally seeing the light or, more cynically, should we note that the administration has done the right thing the very week they are under fire for the NSA snooping scandal?

Either way, the barrage of celebratory statements and Op-Eds released this week sounded battle-weary as much as ebullient. This was a momentous day, leaders said, but how long it’s taken to get here — and at what a cost.

“Too many women in the U.S. have gone without this necessary medication because the pharmacy counter is closed, they don’t have government-issued ID, or they’re under 17 and lack a prescription,” said Dr. Nancy Stanwood of Physicians for Reproductive Health and Rights. Meanwhile, writing in the New York Times, Liz Henry, former teenage mom, had scathing words, calling the previous restrictions a “contraceptive fairy tale in which teenage girls don’t get pregnant if presidents and the F.D.A. wish really hard upon the age-restriction star.”

So now those age restrictions are lifted. We can breathe a sigh of relief. No longer will women, or their partners, or anyone have to awkwardly shuffle up to the prescription counter and ask for this essential drug, compounding the humiliation of failed birth control or even worse, the trauma of coercive sex or assault.

Whatever the various political contexts, this victory clearly belongs to the activists at National Women’s Liberation, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and elsewhere who have held feet to the fire at the FDA and the executive branch. And they’re not done yet. “We will continue to fight for fair treatment for women who want and need more affordable options,” said Nancy Northrup of the CRR.

Indeed, there’s still so much more work to be done — to get the generic version of the pill on the shelves, and more crucially to erase stigma. Just this week a very young pregnant rape victim came forward to talk about how she’d been bullied and shamed by her entire community after being victimized by her assailant. “I can’t walk out the door without someone calling me a whore or

This kind of attitude can’t be legislated away. Plan B may be free, but our views about gender and sex remain far too caged.


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