Access denied

Mary Bradsberry and Britta Guerrerothe are co-chairs of the Issues Committee, Sacramento NOW

For several years, scientific advisory panels for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have investigated the safety of emergency contraception. In December 2003, FDA advisory panels recommended that Plan B, which can significantly reduce the risk of pregnancy if taken within 72 hours of sexual intercourse, be sold without a prescription.

On May 7, 2004, the FDA, disregarding scientific consensus, ruled against granting over-the-counter access to emergency contraception, citing concerns about its use among teenage girls. Pro-choice and women’s-rights advocacy groups across the nation were outraged at this obviously political decision, and so are we.

Basically, the ultraconservative Bush administration put pressure on the FDA, which rejected its own advisory panel’s recommendation, allowing right-wing politics to take precedence over women’s health, ultimately restricting women’s access to reproductive health care.

How are responsible women supposed to avoid an unwanted pregnancy, or better still, avoid the even greater “sin” of actually having an abortion? You would think that those so vocally opposed to abortion would rush to embrace this safe method of backup contraception.

Adding insult to injury is the current lack of local availability of emergency contraception, even with a prescription. Using the most current SBC Smart Yellow Pages (which covers Sacramento, Elk Grove, Rancho Cordova and West Sacramento), we surveyed 117 pharmacies and asked if they carried either Plan B or Preven, the most well-known emergency-contraceptive products on the market.

Shockingly, only 65 pharmacies (56 percent) reported having either product readily available.

To order either one would require at least 24 hours and a second trip to the pharmacy. Some pharmacies that do not stock emergency contraceptives will not order them. To work most effectively, an emergency contraceptive must be taken within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse. It seems logical that all pharmacies should have time-sensitive medication like this in stock.

With emergency-contraceptive access an issue in an urban area like Sacramento, what happens in rural and remote portions of California? What about areas that have only one pharmacy nearby? Responsible adults with a prescription from their physician may be denied access to this safe backup method to regular birth control.

And the kicker: Of the 117 pharmacies surveyed in the Sacramento area, all but one had the male-impotence drug Viagra in stock. Hmm.