Feminists protest temporary limit on morning-after pill sales

May 15, 2013
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Gisela Santiago (right), an organizer with Women Organized to Resist and Defend, reads a statement inside a Walgreens pharmacy in downtown Los Angeles yesterday. The action was part outreach and part protest concerning the Obama administration’s legal battle to restrict women’s access to the morning-after pill, an emergency contraceptive. (Dan Bluemel / LA Activist)

Women’s rights advocates entered a Walgreens pharmacy yesterday in downtown Los Angeles to protest the Obama administration’s efforts to restrict access to the emergency contraceptive commonly known as the morning-after pill.

On May 13, a federal appeals court granted the government’s request for a stay on U.S. District Court Judge Edward R. Korman’s order that would have made the morning-after pill available for anyone of any age without a prescription.

Set up by Women Organized to Resist and Defend, or WORD, the action involved a handful of activists making a statement inside the pharmacy and leafleting. As part of their protest, they placed their own replica boxes of morning-after pills in the contraceptives section as a political statement. The boxes were empty but stated “No I.D. required” and a crossed-off price tag, which above it stated “Affordable for all.” Security and employees at the Walgreens did not interfere with the group’s outreach.

Peta Lindsay, an organizer for WORD, accused the Obama administration of pandering to the political right.

“They are playing political football with our rights,” she said. “It is another example of politicians using our rights for their own personal gain and sacrificing our rights when it is convenient.”

According to The New York Times, Judge Korman similarly accused the Obama administration of putting politics before health and science. He said the decision to broadly distribute the emergency contraceptive had been “corrupted by political interference” and called the government’s arguments “frivolous” and “silly.”

Ironically, the Justice Department’s May 7 decision to appeal comes nearly two weeks after President Obama affirmed his commitment to women’s health and reproductive rights.

“When it comes to a woman’s health, no politician should get to decide what’s best for you,” he said at the 2013 Planned Parenthood National Conference.

Activists placed makeshift replicas of morning-after pill boxes next to other contraceptives as part of their statement to keep the pill’s access available to all women. (Dan Bluemel / LA Activist)

For years scientists and politicians have been at odds about the morning-after pill. In 2011, Kathleen Sebelius, the Health and Human Services secretary, overturned the Food and Drug Administration’s decision to allow the morning-after pill to be sold over the counter to women under 17 without a prescription. It was the first time someone in her position had publicly overruled an FDA decision, according to The New York Times.

After Judge Korman’s ruling, the FDA made the morning-after pill available to women as young as 15. However, groups such as WORD want a return to the FDA’s 2011 decision to make the contraceptive available for all.

During the demonstration, activists chanted, “Old enough to get pregnant, old enough to decide.” When asked if there was an age where parents should decide whether their child should use emergency contraceptives, Lindsay asked in return, “Would you rather them have babies?”

“The reality is if you can’t trust a young woman with a pill, how can you trust them with a baby?” she said. “All you do by blocking contraception is keep her from not getting pregnant. You are not keeping her from having sex, you are keeping her from getting the access and medication she needs.”

Gisela Santiago, an organizer for WORD, read the group’s statement out loud inside the pharmacy. She said she would like to see the price of the morning-after pill reduced as well, making it even more accessible to women.

“I think what really gets me angry is that it is mostly men deciding [on issues of women’s health],” she said. “Men never have to think about having that chance of getting pregnant.”

WORD’s action was held in concert with demonstrations held in 12 other cities this week. At this time it is undecided if more demonstrations will take place.

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