No Plan B: Why Is the Indian Health Service Denying Native American Women Access to Emergency Contraception?
Published in partnership with the American Independent.
"No, ma'am," says the pharmacy tech over the phone at the Choctaw Nation's health clinic in Hugo, Okla., when I ask if the clinic carries emergency contraception.
At the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Health Services clinic in Dowagiac, Mich., the pharmacy tech who answers the phone tells me the clinic does not carry Plan B or any other emergency contraceptive that can prevent pregnancy up to 72 hours following unprotected sex, failed contraception, or sexual assault. And no, she doesn't know the nearest place to get any.
The person filling in at the Black Hawk Health Center in Stroud, Okla., after checking with staff, tells me the clinic does not carry any emergency contraceptive. He suggests trying Stroud Drug or the Walgreens or CVS in Edmond, about an hour drive from Stroud. I could also try the Walmart in Shawnee, he says.
I learn from the Citizen Potawatomi Nation tribal clinic in Shawnee that it does not carry emergency contraception either; though again, I'm referred to Walgreens, CVS, and Walmart.
Were I a Native American woman -- which I'm not -- I would have less incentive to go to a retail pharmacy like one at Walmart or CVS. Because at a pharmacy affiliated with the Indian Health Service -- a federal agency that provides health services for American Indians and Alaska Natives -- emergency contraception, like most medication, would be free. And even if I did have the fifty or so dollars it might cost for the so-called "morning-after pill," I might not have a way to get to a retail pharmacy, if I don't have a car or if I live on an isolated reservation.
About a month ago, I reproduced an informal phone survey originally conducted last September by the Native American Women's Health Education Resource Center, based in Lake Andes, South Dakota. I called the same 63 centers (though I was not able to reach every one), all funded by IHS, asking the questions asked in the original survey: Does your pharmacy carry Plan B or another emergency contraceptive? And is it offered over the counter? I did not identify myself as a reporter.
Though some of the pharmacies contacted in that original survey, and in my own reproduction, said they offered emergency contraception over the counter, more often pharmacy techs or pharmacists said that either their clinics offered the drug by prescription-only, or not at all. In all, the NAWHERC study found that only 11 percent of the pharmacies surveyed carried emergency contraception over the counter, about half carried emergency contraception but required a prescription and a doctor's visit, and about 43 percent of the pharmacies contacted did not carry Plan B at all.