At college campuses across the country, students are speaking out about reproductive rights with the Back Up Your Birth Control Day Campaign, a response to the FDA delay last month to make the morning-after pill available over the counter.Currently, emergency contraception is only available by appointment through campus health centers, which limits access to students at campuses without this service. West Chester University’s Health Center does make the morning-after pill available by appointment.
Since July, the center has distributed 188 doses of emergency contraception. Maryann Hammond, Health Center Director, said, “I look forward to the day the FDA approves [over the counter status]. It will make it more accessible. Anybody who needs it can come here. It’s a service we have always found important to provide.”
Emergency contraception pills reduce the risk of unintended pregnancy by 75 percent when taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex. Plan B, a pill containing low levels of the hormone progestin, is the first of its kind to be approved by the FDA. It reduces the risk of pregnancy by 89 percent and even by 95 percent when taken within 24 hours.
The morning-after pill is not the same as the medical abortion pill, RU-486, used to terminate pregnancy without surgery. Morning-after pills are a preventative measure against pregnancy and are not effective if a woman is already pregnant.
The FDA delayed the decision to give Plan B over the counter status earlier this month, sparking a fiery debate about reproductive freedom. The Back Up Your Birth Control Campaign seeks to educate students about emergency contraception and increase availability of Plan B.
Women’s groups in Washington protested the 90-day delay. Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation, said “Access delayed is access denied” and “the FDA’s decision on OTC status should be based on scientific merit not politics.” The campaign questions the political motives behind the FDA’s decision and says it’s the result of pressures from congress.
Experts commissioned by the FDA recommended the Plan B pill for over the counter status in a 23-4 decision in December. The pill meets the requirements set by the FDA and is considered the most effective emergency contraception available.
Robin Garrett, MSN, RN, and Director of the WCU Women’s Center said, “I believe a large majority of students on this campus, regardless of what they think personally about unintended pregnancy, believe that access to emergency contraception and choice about abortion should be available, even if they themselves think they wouldn’t use these things.”
Garrett said the debate is ultimately about women’s rights and health issues in general. “There’s a small minority of people who are so intense in their opposition to individual women having the power to make these decisions that sometimes it feels risky to be openly pro-choice,” she said.
West Chester students can get more information from the student campaign Web site at www.feministcampus.org.