Sixty women gathered and nine were arrested Jan. 7 trying to get the FDA to make the Morning-After Pill an over-the-counter drug in the U.S.
The FDA’s decision, expected by Jan. 20, will be the culmination of a many-year application process for the pill, which carries the brand name Plan B. Similar pills have been prescribed since the mid-70s to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex.
Currently, the pill is only available by prescription, a requirement that feminists charge is ludicrous because the drug is most effective to prevent pregnancy in the first 24 hours after unprotected sex. (It may be used, with declining effectiveness, up to 120 hours after sex.) At the FDA on Jan. 7th, women testified about trying to obtain a prescription and fill it in the narrow time window. “I had to brave game-day traffic to get to the infirmary, which it turned out was closed,” Gainesville Area NOW’s Stephanie Seguin recalled. “When I lived in France, they were passing it out in bars with condoms.”
At a December 2003 hearing by a combined FDA advisory panel, the FDA’s experts agreed. They voted 23 to 4 that the drug should go over the counter, and 27 to 0 that the drug was safe. Plan B is one-time a higher dose of birth control, equivalent to about 4 birth control pills, but because it is not taken on a sustained basis, the side-effects from regular birth-control pills are not present. Around 1 in 5 women experience nausea or jitteriness.
The FDA normally follows the recommendations of its advisory boards. But after political pressure from Republicans in Congress, the FDA waffled, and asked the drug company, Barr, to resubmit its application with a provision for blocking women under 16 from getting the pill without a prescription.
At the January press conference, feminists who formed the “Morning-After Pill Conspiracy” to push for the drug to be over the counter committed civil disobedience by passing the prescription drug to one another, and to two women who asked for it after the event. It is illegal for laypeople to give out a prescription drug. The Morning-After Pill Conspiracy says that over 2,000 women have signed pledges to defy the prescription requirement and give the Morning-After Pill to any friend who needs it. These pledges, MAP Conspiracy reported at the press conference, have been faxed to the FDA as part of the campaign.
The Morning-After Pill Conspiracy opposes any age limit or requirement of proof of age, stating, “If you’re old enough to get pregnant, you’re old enough to decide you don’t want to be pregnant.” Further, they say, the age requirement would effectively put the Morning-After Pill “behind the counter” for all women, requiring every woman who wants the pill to ask for it from a pharmacist and prove their age.
The nine were arrested when they asked to see the decision-maker in the case, Acting Director Steven Galson, but a meeting was offered with only 5 people with another official. The protesters demanded to see Galson, and sat down. They were arrested and charged with Disorderly Conduct. A court date has not yet been set.
Four Gainesville women were among the nine, who represented groups including Gainesville Area NOW and Campus NOW chapters, the Florida NOW Young Feminist Task Force, the New York Reproductive Rights Taskforce, and Redstockings Allies & Veterans, which is based in New York City.