by Amber Cox and Julia Ernst
The Rider University Health Center is hoping word of mouth will be enough to let students know that the morning-after pill is available on campus.
The morning-after pill, known as Plan B, is used as an emergency contraceptive or backup method of birth control if no method was used or the used method failed.
Ellen Thompson, a senior and former board member of Rider’s Vox (Voices for Planned Parenthood) group, said that, as far as she knows, the Health Center doesn’t intend to advertise Plan B.
“When we asked if we could publicize its availability, we were told that we could not,” Thompson said. “It’s difficult because we want people to know that it’s available.”
Plan B is sold for $30 at the Health Center and is available Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Thompson also stated that the Health Center has a list of contraceptives that it has available to students.
According to the Plan B Web site, the pill can reduce the chance of pregnancy when taken as directed, up to 72 hours (three days) after unprotected sex. The Web site also said that the sooner the pill is taken, the better it works. Ideally, it should be taken within the first 24 hours after unprotected sex.
The site also said that about seven out of every eight women who would have gotten pregnant would not become pregnant if they had taken Plan B.
Plan B is a pack of two pills that are taken 12 hours apart. Each pill contains a high dose of levonorgestrel, a synthetic progestogen hormone used as an active ingredient in some hormonal contraceptives.
“It’s a high level of hormones coming into your body at once,” Thompson said. “It’s not safe to use on a regular basis. A low dose, 28-day regime is the preferred method.”
Thompson clarified that Plan B is not the abortion pill RU-486. The Plan B pills will not work if a person is already pregnant and is not likely to harm existing pregnancies.
The Plan B Web site also says it should not be used as regular birth control. The pills are not as effective as using a regular birth control method correctly and consistently.
Plan B has been available in the United States, with a prescription, since 1999. It has been available over-the-counter since 2006. Although it is considered an over-the-counter drug, it is held behind the pharmacy counter.
“Pharmacists can choose not to [provide] it to you, but they must refer you to another pharmacist,” said Jackie Day, another senior and former board member of Vox.
The drug has been available to women 18 years and older without a prescription, but that will soon be changing.
An article from The New York Times, posted online March 24, stated that Plan B will soon be available to women as young as 17 without a prescription.
On Monday, March 23, a federal judge ordered the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to lower the age for ability to obtain Plan B without a prescription.
The article also stated that the “judge ruled that the agency had improperly bowed to political pressure from the Bush administration in 2006 when it set 18 as the age limit.”
The FDA has 30 days to obey the order. The judge is also urging the agency to consider removing any and all restrictions on over-the-counter sales of Plan B.
Day said that it’s important to promote safe sex practices.
“Our first goal is to prevent people from [needing] Plan B,” Day said. “We want to educate the campus community about safe sexual practices, but if they have to use Plan B, then we will support that.”
Thompson also believes that education about safe sexual practices is very important.
“We want to be honest and open about safe sex practices,” Thompson said. “Part of prevention is having these services available and it’s hard when the availability isn’t readily publicized.”
Day also said that because Rider is a private university, the administration is able to dictate what can and can’t be said.
Vox has never been told that it isn’t allowed to advertise, but some people on campus think Plan B shouldn’t be advertised.
“We’ve received a lot of concern from the Health Center because the people who give money to the school wouldn’t find it appropriate for us to advertise it,” Thompson said. “We talk about it, but it’s not necessarily accepted in all circles.”
According to the Planned Parenthood Web site, Vox is a program for college students to “educate and mobilize students and youth in support of reproductive rights and health.”
“Vox has a ‘back up your birth control day’ every year,” Thompson said.
Some students think that this option should be openly advertised on the campus.
“It’s counterproductive to have it, but not say it’s available,” junior Stephanie Premselaar said. “It’s like a homeless person finding $1,000 and not using it.”
Sophomore Melissa Cooper agreed.
“I think all of the services that the Health Center offers should be advertised,” she said. “I don’t think you should have to hunt someone down to find out if the Health Center offers something. Sometimes it seems like the Health Center is a mystery because you don’t always know what services they provide.”