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What Happened When I Tried to Buy Emergency Contraception

By , 17, Staff Writer Originally Published: February 27, 2014 Revised: July 22, 2014

I walked down the family planning aisle of my local Walgreen’s pharmacy in search of emergency contraception (EC). Emergency contraception is a drug that can prevent pregnancy and can be taken up to 120 hours after unprotected sex or sex where the method of birth control has failed. For a moment I believed I saw Plan B One-Step on the shelf, but I was only momentarily fooled. A replica of the box held the place where the EC pill should be. The paper cutout mentioned that the pill was “now available over the counter.” Yet, on it was plastered a sticker that said, “See associate for product.” I was confused. I should have been able to grab it and go, but instead I had to find a Walgreen’s employee? Where was the emergency contraception?

As of August 1, 2013, thanks to a ruling by a federal judge, the emergency contraception pill Plan B One-Step should be available for purchase over the counter without a prescription. Anyone should be able to walk into a pharmacy, purchase Plan B One-Step and walk out. However, my research was showing it isn’t quite that simple. My mission was to find out if EC was available for purchase over the counter by anyone of any age. So far, that wasn’t the case.

Anyone should be able to walk into a pharmacy, purchase Plan B One-Step and walk out.

Finding Emergency Contraception

I reluctantly headed over to the Walgreen pharmacy’s consultation area where I could talk to a pharmacist. I was intimidated by the prospect of having to talk to a stranger about EC. I politely asked the pharmacist if I could purchase Plan B One-Step. She directed me to checkout, dismissing me as if I was already supposed to know where it was. The emergency contraception pill was available on the shelf behind the cashier, next to nicotine patches and memory cards for cameras. At this pharmacy, Plan B One-Step was $49.99—pretty expensive for your average teenager with only an after-school job. I hesitantly talked to the male cashier, who told me the EC pill was available for purchase.

My next stop was the local CVS pharmacy. I again went to the family planning aisle. Another paper sign directed me to the feminine care aisle. But when I got there the shelf where Plan B One-Step was supposed to be was empty. Only the price tag remained. I went to the pharmacy consultation desk and had to wait a while for the pharmacist. She was much nicer than the one in Walgreen’s. I asked her if she had any Plan B One-Step available, and she asked me if it was on the self. She seemed surprised when I told her the shelf was empty. She checked if they had any left in storage, but unfortunately, they were sold out. She was very apologetic and sounded genuinely sorry she couldn’t help me.

Emergency Contraception Not on the Shelves

Fortunately for me this was not an emergency. But what if it had been? The pharmacist at CVS hadn’t directed me to anywhere else I could buy the pill. EC is more effective at preventing pregnancy the sooner you take it. And it can only be taken up to 120 hours or five days after unprotected sex or sex where the method of birth control failed. What if it would have been too late once the next shipment arrived at the store? I can’t imagine going through this experience while knowing that my chances of becoming pregnant would increase if I didn’t get emergency contraception.

The search for EC had been like a scavenger hunt. After wandering from one aisle to the next, I had concluded that buying emergency contraception over the counter wasn’t as simple as it should be. Asking strangers if I could purchase Plan B One-Step had been terrifying. I had worried what they thought of me. Did they think I was irresponsible? Even though I know buying EC after the condom breaks or you forget to take the Pill is the responsible thing to do, that doesn’t mean I want to talk to a cashier about it.

Any teen should be able to walk into a local drugstore, buy emergency contraception the way they would shampoo or Tylenol and walk out. Instead, the entire process had been overwhelming. The intent of the law had been to make purchasing EC easier, but, as I found out, it wasn’t quite as easy as it could be.

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