Options: Plan B

Every other Thursday, after I’ve posted here, I breathe a huge sigh of relief. Free for another 14 days. Then the worrying begins. What will I post on next? There is no shortage of topics. My white board is crowded with notes I’ve jotted down … RSVP Nazi, current (captive?) princesses, tadaima, stewardship and pre vs post millennialism, This I Believe, dancing and the priesthood, magic’s in the makeup. However, more often than not, more pressing topics will intrude. This is one of those weeks.

I love having options. As a peer counselor in high school, part of my responsibility was to help my peers come up with a list of options, and discuss probable outcomes and how they felt about them. Our whole first semester we practiced on each other, holding group discussions with our chairs forming a haphazard circle, building a framework of trust that allowed us to share some of our deepest concerns and beliefs, seeing how our biases could impede discussion, and learning to work past our personal biases to encourage therapeutic discussion. The second semester a few of us started meeting with students (self and teacher referred). The whole year was an intoxicating and grounding experience. Intoxicating because listing my options made me feel so incredibly powerful and free. Grounding because I had to consider all the implications of each option, choose a course of action, and be responsible for the outcome.

Aside: Mrs. H, who was an English teacher when she wasn’t leading our group, is the first woman in my life that I can point to as a feminist mentor. We never discussed feminism explicitly, but she had such a wonderful mix of straightforwardness, intelligence, compassion and liberality that I can’t help but think of her as a major part of my feminist foundation.

Anyway, back to options. Last week the FDA approved the over the counter sale of Plan B to women over the age of 18. It’s been a long time coming … with fighting between the scientific and feminist communities on one hand, and political conservatives on the other. Even at this time, neither side is perfectly happy, but I believe that the current state of affairs is a good compromise.

I think it’s a positive development that Plan B is readily available to adult women. Opponents worry that Plan B will become a substitute for other types of birth control (ie: the pill), that it is a form of abortion, and that it will promote teen promiscuity. However, given the comparative cost of Plan B ($20-40/course, as in each time one has sex) vs the pill ($10-45/month, for all the sex you can have in a month), it is doubtful that Plan B would replace conventional BC. As to the abortion-esque arguments, Plan B prevents pregnancy by several mechanisms; primarily by preventing ovulation, but also by preventing fertilization of the egg, and by possibly preventing implantation in the womb. It is important to note that Plan B has no effect on an implanted zygote. To my mind, this does not constitute abortion. As to the promiscuity of teens, I don’t have a satisfactorily clear-cut answer. That teens are generally becoming more promiscuous, is a fact. That we need to teach them more about the consequences of sexual activity, both physical, emotional and spiritual, is also a fact. However, having Plan B available OTC, from a pharmacist, and subject to age restrictions does not seem to advance teen promiscuity more than concerned, involved and loving parents can counteract it.

Personally, I am against abortion. I also believe that most members would not personally choose to have an abortion or use Plan B. However, I believe that it is important to have these options legally available to those who would choose them, in order for the expression of agency, and especially for those rare cases in which use may be deemed appropriate by the Brethren.

However, as much as I am glad that Plan B is now available OTC, I am not without worries. I worry that women will now have even less motivation to report acquaintance rape, and that victims will not seek medical or psychological help if the danger of unwanted pregnancy is removed. I’m also concerned with the report that men will be able to buy Plan B for their partners, and that this will encourage sexual predation. Even now, I’m unsure of what can be done about these concerns, and would love to hear any solutions.

In the end, I do support the sale of Plan B as currently stated. It is only in a society where we are allowed to make mistakes that we can develop a personal sense of morality. I worry that with all the activity to curtail women’s reproductive rights, the attention to the individual’s ethical growth is sacrificed. Attempting to compel others to conform to my set of ethics is about as fruitful as giving someone the proverbial fish. It does nothing to help them become independent thinkers who can navigate the moral and ethical difficulties that are inherent and essential to this mortal existence. And even though it’s been more years than I care to count since I was a peer counselor, helping others to understand their options and outcomes, and teaching them to thoughtfully choose their course of action is still the most effective way I can help others.


Jana is a university administrator and teaches History. Her soloblog is http://janaremy.com

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  1. sarah says:

    I am personally all for Plan B, but what I find most interesting about most of the current debate is this kind of statement “only in a society where we are allowed to make mistakes that we can develop a personal sense of morality.” I agree with this, but…

    most of the debates seem to center around morality in terms of promiscuity; yet most women I know who have used Plan B — myself included–are married or in monogamous relationships. They used it simply because their primary form of birth control — a condom — failed. A mistake, yes; but more one of manufacturing than morality… Birth control pills and spermacides have a nasty effect on many women, so they cannot always be used as the primary method of birth control.

    I agree that it should not be available to teens — or to men who might use it to cover up incest. But, I think it is wonderful that it is available without prescription to adult women.

    In the past it was often difficult to get a prescription, as you generally need to see the doctor in person to get it, and if you have bad luck on a weekend and the doctor’s office is closed…it becomes complicated. Also, it is most effective within 24 hours, so time is of the essence. Also, the fact that many Catholic hospitals and Catholic or Evangelical pharmacists refused to dispense the drug — even for rape/incest victims, left many women scrambling to get help preventing a very unwanted pregnancy.

  2. Caroline says:

    Dora, great post. Wish I could comment more but baby’s wailing… Anyway, I agree that having Plan B available to adult women over the counter is a good thing. And I second your idea about allowing others their own agency and thus an opportunity to develop morally.

  3. Anonymous says:

    As a pro-life physician, I always feel the need to point out that the mechanisms of action of Plan B are identical to the mechanisms of action of birth control pills. It is completely inconsistent to think that using Plan B is not acceptable but that using standard birth control pills is. That is why it baffles me to see so much opposition to “emergency” contraception but much less to other hormonal contraceptives.

  4. Amira says:

    Thank you for this excellent post Dora.

  5. AmyB says:

    Thank you for an interesting and informative post, Dora. I hadn’t been following this news.

    I personally get very uncomfortable when the rationale for providing or not providing forms of birth control hinge on worries about promiscuity or morality. I too agree that we need to be allowed to make our own mistakes. Granted, there can be a lot at stake with sexual “mistakes”, but I just don’t like it when one group of people tries to control the sexuality of another group of people.

  6. Coventry says:

    Just to underscore what the anonymous physician stated, Plan B is not an abortion pill. It will not terminate a pregnancy (a fertilized egg that has attached to the uterus).

    Plan B can only do 1 of 3 things: stop the release of an egg from the ovary, prevent fertilization, or prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus. Those are the same things regular birth control pills do. Plan B is basically a heavy dose of your usual birth control pill.

    If you have moral objections to birth control pills including the Plan B pill, so be it, but do not think of Plan B as abortion in a capsule unless you think of all birth control pills that way.

  7. Anonymous says:

    to piggyback on how plan B is just a heavy dose of regular birth control pills….
    As such, it is pretty darn unpleasant to take. I used it once and the nausea was awful, then the anti-nausea meds knocked me out for a day and a half. It was miserable.
    so Dora, when you say the cost wil prevent people from using it frequently, I chuckled to myself, “just trying it once will prevent them!”

  8. Kristy says:

    I’m not sure how long ago you tried Plan B, but there is no longer nausea associated with Plan B because there is only the progestogen in the pill, not the estrogen, that normally makes women sick from the pill.

    In any case, I know I’m the outlier of this discussion, but I think Plan B should be available to all women, regardless of age, OTC. Adult women, who would have normally obtained Plan B in the past, regardless of it not being OTC and used it to prevent pregnancy can now receive it even more easily, without seeing a doctor. However, the individuals who most need it, girls under the age of 18, still have to get a doctor’s order to receive it. One of the biggest problems in our nation is teenage pregnancy and it is the teenagers who need this medication to PREVENT THE PREGNANCY from occurring. Most teenagers would be too afraid, immature or ignorant to go to a doctor, following unprotected sex, to seek Plan B. Thus, the population who needs Plan B the most, will still receive it the least.

    The bottom line is: teenagers are having sex. That being said, would you have teenage girls faced with the greater emotion, spiritual and physical dilemna of deciding whether to receive an abortion, have and keep a child before they are ready or have and give up a child up for adoption? Or, would you rather prevent the pregnancy from ever occurring? I’m a mother of two young girls, and I’ll tell you the answer is very easy for me.

    In addition, to the question of male partners obtaining Plan B for incest victims. Let’s remember that this is would be a very small minority of individuals potentially taking Plan B and as a past incest victim myself, looking back, I would much rather I didn’t get pregnant from the incestuous sexual intercourse than get pregnant. Good grief, I can’t imagine how much more my psyche would have been messed up with that horrendous situation as part of my reality.

    In any case, I just wanted to voice my desire to see Plan B available to all women, including girls under the age of 18. Speaking of this, last week, I was joking around with my 53 year old step-sister, saying that we should volunteer to buy plan B for underage girls. Jokingly, of course, I said I would stand outside of local grocery stores with a sign that read, “I’m 33. I’ll buy your Plan B for free”. I wonder how many distraught, frightened young girls would approach me–girls who would surely become pregnant within a few days if not for EASY access to Plan B.

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