Kit Steinkellner
November 14, 2014 11:16 am

The emergency contraceptive Plan B revolutionized the world of birth control. The pill, which was approved by the FDA in 1999, can be taken in the 72-hour period after unprotected sexual intercourse or in the case of contraceptive failure to greatly reduce the chances of pregnancy.

In the 15 years that Plan B has been on the market, the medication has become more and more accessible to women. In 2006, the FDA approved non-prescription behind-the-counter access for women 18 and older, while a prescription version of Plan B was made available to girls 17 and younger. Last year the FDA also approved Plan B One Step for anyone 15 years or older who can show proof of age, such as a driver’s license, birth certificate, or passport (the two-pill version of Plan B remains available without a prescription to anyone 17 years or older who can show proof of age).

What all this means is that women don’t have to jump through hoops to prevent pregnancies and we have more options than ever when it comes to birth control and our bodies.

But a new report suggests this right to reproductive privacy and freedom does not extend to all women. Native American women who live on tribal reservations are currently fighting an uphill battle for the right to easy Plan B access. Last year, Indian Health Care (also known as IHS, the federal agency that handles health care issues on tribal lands) announced that they would make Plan B available over the counter. Up until this point, women who lived on tribal lands needed a prescription for the drug. Getting the prescription was no easy feat for many Native American women who lived in remote areas and on reservations, with no easy access to an urgent care clinic or emergency rooms where they could obtain a prescription.

So now IHS has given the verbal directive to all facilities under their care ordering the availability of Plan B. But a new study from the Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center (NAWHERC) has found that there are places where Native women still cannot obtain Plan B, either because the facilities do not carry the drug or they refuse to administer it to women under the age of 18. The NAWHERC survey found that 80% of the facilities now carry Plan B, but 72% of those facilities still enforce age restrictions, a practice that is now illegal.

What is also troubling is it seems that there are healthcare providers in this situation who are refusing to help Native women because of their beliefs.

“There’s a lot of [medical] staff within IHS that are not pro-choice and see this is as a threat to their beliefs,” explained Charon Asetoyer, the CEO of NAWHERC, in an interview with Jezebel. “But they’re not supposed to impose their own values. If there were policies in place, they would stipulate that if you have a moral issue, you’d have to pass it on to another staff person to handle,” which is (generally) what happens at non-IHS health facilities. “But without a policy in place stipulating that, they can just get by without providing it, even in a facility where it’s being provided over the counter. If you get the wrong pharmacist, there’s no policy in place that says you have to step aside to somebody who can handle the situation. That’s a very dangerous situation.”

Now Asetoyer and her agency are running out of options.

“We’re trying to do everything we can before we take legal action. And it’s getting down to the wire. It really is,” Asetoyer lamented to Jezebel. “Denying women access to emergency contraceptives, even after the World Health Organization has come out with these recommendations on how important it is, is a breach of our human rights.”

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