Mark your calendar: March 22 is Back Up Your Birth Control Day, and Planned Parenthood wants to make sure women who've had an "oops" moment know what to do– and where to go.
In fact, they may not have to go anywhere. Thanks to their free prescription delivery services, Timberlake's Drug Store and Meadowbrook Pharmacy make access to the "morning after" pill even easier. A call to your doctor is all it takes, and a driver– during business hours– will bring the pill to your door. (Though you need to have your insurance card on file at the stores.)
The morning after pill, marketed under the brand name Plan B, is approved by the FDA for prescription use as a "safe and effective way to prevent unintended pregnancies," says Becky Reid, spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of the Blue Ridge, who adds that only six percent of women report using emergency birth control, a fact she attributes to women's lack of knowledge on the subject. (An FDA panel had approved the drug for over-the-counter sale, but the acting head of that organization, Dr. Steven Galson, overruled his staff last May, citing concern about giving young teens easy access.)
Broken condoms or spilled pills aren't the only reasons for using Plan B. In cases of rape, if a woman is examined within 72 hours of the assault, hospitals will generally offer Plan B as part of the rape exam, says Rachel Thielmann at the Sexual Assault Resource Agency.
But making sure all women have access to the drug on short notice– and not just in cases of rape– has been a struggle. Many aren't even aware it exists, Reid says, or they may believe it works like RU-486, the "abortion drug" that's effective only after pregnancy occurs. While some religious leaders may disagree, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists defines pregnancy as implantation of a fertilized egg in the womb.
Plan B works by preventing that implantation. Taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, Reid says, the pill– which is simply a higher dose of the hormones found in birth control pills– is up to 89 percent effective at preventing pregnancy.
But some say Plan B could backfire.
Having easy access to the morning after pill could encourage young women to have unprotected sex, says Marnie Deaton, founder of the Central Virginia Family Forum, the same pro-life group that fought the zoning that allowed construction of the new Planned Parenthood center on Hydraulic Road.
And that's not her only worry.
"We fear that easy access to morning after pills will cause rapes and date rapes to go unreported," says Deaton, because many women won't bear the trauma of an unwanted pregnancy. "The rapist will remain free," says Deaton, "and victims will lose the healing and empowering experience of fighting for justice and their own safety."
Because she believes that pregnancy begins at conception rather than implantation, Deaton says, morning after pills "leave many women wondering for the rest of their lives if they did abort their child or not."
Planned Parenthood's Reid declines comment on Deaton's view of rape reporting. But in response to Deaton's fear that the pill could increase promiscuity, she cites a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which shows no link between promiscuity and having access to the morning after pill.
Local writer Barbara Rich, who has written extensively about her pro-life stance though she focuses only on fighting partial birth abortion– says opposition to any form of contraception is "insanity."
"If you want to avoid abortion, you have to be for contraception," says Rich. "Not every fetus is wanted, and it is monstrous to withhold contraception– especially if you are pro-life and so violently opposed to abortion. You are playing into the hands of the abortionists when you are against contraception."
Planned Parenthood's Reid says she can't understand Deaton's position.
"You would think that anti-choice groups would support [Plan B] since it is one of the best ways to reduce the need for abortion," she says.
To ensure ease of access locally, Planned Parenthood is conducting a comprehensive survey of area drug stores to see who has Plan B and who doesn't. Those results will be released on March 22, along with a 50 percent off sale on Plan B at Planned Parenthood headquarters. In the meantime, an informal Hook poll reveals that while Charlottesville women won't have trouble finding Plan B at stores including CVS and Eckerd, our neighbors in the Valley may have to search.
Rite-Aid, CVS, and Eckerd stores in the Waynesboro and Stuart's Draft areas don't keep the drug in stock (though they will order it for next-day delivery) and at least one pharmacist, Robert Semler, of The Medicine Shoppe in Waynesboro, steadfastly refuses to dispense any type of contraception. His customers just may have to take a trip over the mountain, zygote in tow.