Pharmacists routinely misinform young women about whether they can get emergency contraception

On the heels of the outrageous, unprecedented HHS decision to overrule the FDA’s recommendation to make Plan B fully available without a prescription comes a new study revealing just how inaccessible emergency contraception is–even for those women who theoretically already have over-the-counter access.

Researchers posing as 17-year-old women called pharmacies around the country to ask about getting EC. First off, nearly 20% of the callers were told straight-up that they couldn’t get EC that day–whether because it wasn’t in stock or they didn’t want to give it out or maybe the person who answered the phone hadn’t been trained yet. Regardless, tough luck for the caller who’d really, really like to try to avoid getting pregnant ASAP. Once the callers revealed their age, almost 20% of pharmacies claimed that 17-year-olds could not get the drug–despite the fact that, um, they damn well can. Furthermore, the study found that women in poorer neighborhoods were more than 60% more likely to be misinformed than those in more affluent neighborhoods.

So, young women are getting screwed; poor women are getting screwed. Anyone else? Yep, let’s not forget that the age restriction on over-the-counter access also means that pharmacists have to ask for an ID, so undocumented women of all ages are screwed too.

As Aaron Carroll writes, “All of this would be improved if the drug were just known to be available over-the-counter for everyone.” Pretty sure that’s exactly why the FDA tried to make it so.

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like,, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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