Throughout life we are encouraged to have a “Plan B.” Didn’t get into UF? Clown school it is. Leonardo’s By the Slice is closed? Italian Gator it is. We miss the pill, or the condom breaks? Then we seek out the Morning After Pill (MAP) as soon as possible.
So what is MAP? It’s a form of birth control commonly known by its trade name, Plan B. It contains high dosage of the medications found in your average birth control pack and is considered as safe as Advil. MAP is not the abortion pill and will not terminate a pregnancy. It prevents pregnancy when taken within three days of unprotected sex. It’s over-the-counter and has no age restrictions, but it hasn't always been this way.
National Women’s Liberation (NWL) led in the push to get MAP over-the-counter from prescription-only status. In a 10 year campaign, NWL sued two presidential administrations and organized countless direct actions (like a sit-in at the FDA and flash mobs at pharmacies) to demand MAP be over the counter with no age restrictions. Victory came in 2013 when a federal judge ordered the Obama administration to make the pill available to all.
Despite this ruling, a 2015 study by the American Society for Emergency Contraception found that only 64 percent of stores sampled carried MAP on the shelves, and 46 percent kept the product locked in a case or box. NWL activists confirmed this when they visited pharmacies near UF’s campus. All the Walgreens and CVS locations had locked the pills in a case on the shelf or had stored them behind the cashier’s counter. The cost was $50 for Plan B and $40 for generic versions.
And buying MAP is a hassle. In one pharmacy, a woman had to interact with FIVE individuals before purchasing MAP. Instead of simply buying a safe, over-the-counter medication, she first had to notify 5 people that she had unprotected sex. Can you imagine having to interact with 5 different people before buying condoms?
It should not be hard to have fun, safe and consensual sex and avoid pregnancy. The UF Infirmary offers MAP for only $10, which makes it even more available to a larger number of women. This is a big step toward female bodily autonomy, but why should access be limited to the limited infirmary hours?
UF students face a choice if they need MAP after hours. They must either spend four-to-five times more if they were to purchase MAP at a local pharmacy, or they must delay purchasing MAP until the UF Infirmary re-opens, thereby increasing the chance of an unintended pregnancy. MAP is effective up to 72 hours after sex, but it is much more effective within 24 hours of unprotected sex. The life-changing consequences of an unintended pregnancy will not wait for business hours, and neither should we.
As of Sept 2017, five U.S. universities now have MAP vending machines. At those schools, students can access MAP whenever they need it and within the privacy and security of their campus. Women have a legal right to decide whether or not they want to get pregnant, and the tools that exist should be available when we need. Individual men should do their fair share of pregnancy prevention and men in government should stop sitting in rooms full of men dictating what women can and cannot do with our bodies. Women are not society’s mandated breeding machines. Our UF community can increase access to safe and affordable birth control and enable women to truly decide what’s right for ourselves.
The Bottom Line: We demand the UF Infirmary provide all-hours vending machines, with at least one in the Reitz Union, where we can access MAP for the same affordable rate as we can during business hours. This is a campaign that the Campus Committee of NWL is committed to working toward. Join us at our next meeting Wednesday at 5:45pm in Little Hall 117 – more information at womensliberation.org.
Jennifer C. Boylan is a postdoctoral scholar at UF. Nicole Long is a doctoral student at UF. Both are steering committee members with National Women’s Liberation.