Native women gain better access to emergency contraception–but still not enough

Native woman protestor holding sign saying "stop threatening women's rights"While women of color may receive more counseling on emergency contraception, they certainly don’t always have access to it when they do need it. From the age restrictions that were finally lifted after a court order to pharmacists who spread misinformation or refuse to stock the drug, we know is still not as easy as it should be to get your hands on some EC in many places. And for many Native American women, it’s been all but impossible. As MoJo explained last year:

On many reservations, the only medical facilities are the Indian Health Service centers, which are a federally administered division of the Department of Health and Human Services. The Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center’s research found that only 10 percent of the pharmacies in the IHS offered Plan B, or “the morning after pill”—the leading form of emergency contraception—over the counter. Forty percent only provide Plan B with a prescription, and the other half don’t provide the pill at all.

This is particularly awful considering that Native American women experience sexual assault at rates twice the national average. Prompt access to EC is just one of the things–along with rape kits and legal resources–that many survivors on reservations lack. Now after many years of pressure of reproductive health advocates, IHS claims they’re fixing the problem. The AP reports:

IHS said more than a year ago that it was finalizing a policy to provide the drug directly to patients. That policy hasn’t been released, but the agency told The Associated Press that all IHS facilities run by the federal government are now under a verbal directive to provide Plan B to women 17 years and older at pharmacy windows without a prescription.

“I want to reassure you that we have taken this issue seriously, and the IHS has, on several occasions this year, confirmed access to FDA-approved emergency contraceptive products in all IHS federally operated facilities with pharmacies,” the agency wrote in response to questions from the AP.

While this is a good first step, advocates are still pushing to make that verbal directive official by getting it on paper. And I’m not sure if IHS heard the news, but Plan B is supposed to be available to women of ALL ages without a prescription now. As Charon Asetoyer of the Resource Center said, “They’re still violating our rights to access by denying women who are age 16 and under. …We have to ask, why are we being treated differently?

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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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