Walking into the building, she felt uncomfortable. She had heard about it from one of her older friends, but didn’t know much about it. This was her backup, a second chance to put a stop to something she wasn’t prepared to handle.
This was her “plan B.”[1]
“Sarah,” who wishes to remain anonymous, never thought she would be one of the people in Planned Parenthood that day. The room was filled with college-age kids like herself, some there for a routine checkup, others who were in the same position as she was, and probably wondering if they were doing the right thing.
“I felt stupid that I was doing it,” said Sarah, thinking back on that day a year and a half ago. “That if I had been smart in the first place I wouldn’t even have to have been there.”
Sarah’s “plan B” is casually referred to as the “morning-after pill,” a form of emergency contraceptive. “Morning after” references the time component of the drug: it must be taken within 72 hours of engaging in unprotected sex. Plan B is a progestin-only emergency contraceptive that was approved in 1999 by the Food and Drug Administration and can range in cost from free to $34. It is administered in two pills that can be taken separately 12 hours apart or, with new dosages, at the same time.
Sarah never had any second thoughts about taking Plan B but there is a debate currently focused on an FDA delay in making the drug available over the counter, despite a recommendation by an FDA-appointed committee.
Joy Whitten, public affairs development specialist for Planned Parenthood of Mid-Michigan, said the delay doesn’t make sense. She said it was not based on science but “pure politics.”
“Certain groups want to control access to health care and they are the loud voice right now,” said Whitten.
One such voice is Emily Casari, social relations junior and vice president of MSU Students for Life. “If [Plan B] actually does its job, by preventing the already formed embryo from implanting itself, then that is considered a chemical abortion because it’s stopping a life,” said Casari. Although her organization takes no stance on contraceptives, Casari said Plan B is in the middle because only sometimes does it cause these “chemical abortions.”
Abortion? Sarah said she never thought of it as abortion. Plan B claims to be only an emergency contraceptive.
Whitten said Planned Parenthood takes the position of the FDA: emergency contraceptives are not abortion. She said taking the drug will not interrupt or terminate a pregnancy. According to the FDA, Plan B can work in three ways to prevent pregnancy. It can stop the release of an egg from the ovary; prevent the union of the egg and sperm or, if the egg has been fertilized, it may prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to the womb. The issue some have is with the third way Plan B can work, preventing implantation.
There are two different views out there as to when a woman is actually pregnant. The fertilization viewpoint argues human life is formed when an egg and a sperm unite, whereas the implantation viewpoint sees a human life as being formed when the fertilized egg attaches itself to the wall of a woman’s uterus. According to most pro-life groups, a fertilized egg is the beginning of a human being and to prevent implantation is, in a sense, a chemical abortion. Casari said at the time of fertilization, everything needed to form a human is present and the only thing the embryo needs is nutrients and time.
“Implantation is just the movement of the embryo from floating around in the uterus to the wall,” Casari said.
Education sophomore Mallory Milczarski agrees. “I feel in a less subtle way this is an abortion because there is the chance that there could have been a baby,” said Milczarski. “By taking that pill, no matter how early on, like the next morning, is still wrong in my opinion.”
Whitten said it’s all based on an individual’s values as to when life begins. Brenna Flannery, public relations consultant for the MSU Womyn’s Council, agrees with Whitten and said her group is open to all women of all political affiliations and views on life. “It all depends on what you believe,” said Flannery. ”I personally don’t believe that implantation is when a human life begins. That should be left up to each individual.” Flannery considers herself pro-choice but says the Womyn’s Council has members who don’t support abortion.
Sitting in the Planned Parenthood waiting room, surrounded by students who could possibly be in her position, Sarah said she definitely did not think of Plan B as an abortion. “It’s the last effort of a contraceptive,” she said.
That wasn’t Sarah’s first visit to Planned Parenthood. She went there two years ago to get birth control pills when she became sexually active with her boyfriend, but had since stopped using birth control. Sarah said when going in for Plan B, she was given instructions, asked if she had any questions and was handed the prescription. Sarah said she does not agree with the drug becoming over-the-counter because people may become careless with it.
“The harder it is for people to get, the more they are going to take precaution,” said Sarah. “Especially younger kids. They can be young and stupid and this would just make it worse.” Whitten wants to see it go over-the-counter because of a woman’s right to have access to the health care she needs. In the case of Plan B, she said women need access to the drug quickly because of the 72-hour time frame.
Sarah admitted this was a problem for her since she was out of town when she had unprotected sex and it wasn’t easy to get to Planned Parenthood in time.
Flannery also thinks making Plan B over-the-counter would make it more accessible. “It would give women another option if the condom broke or if they were raped,” said Flannery.
Whitten also said studies have shown that Plan B is safe to take more than once based on current research, and no long-term problems have been found. According to a 2004 editorial by Jeffrey M. Drazen, M.D., in the New England Journal of Medicine, the data currently available on the subject said Plan B is safe and effective when available without a contraceptive. Drazen also wrote the availability of Plan B does not result in a change in the usual behavior or contraceptive practices of the women who may use it.
The recommendation by the members of the Nonprescription Drugs Advisory Committee and the Advisory Committee for Reproductive Health was turned down by the FDA for two reasons dealing with the lack of data representing young adolescents and their safety in using the drug. It has since been postponed indefinitely.
The two sides probably will never come to an agreement as to when life begins. Despite this, Plan B is still available by prescription through Planned Parenthood and at Olin Health Center for MSU students. Whitten said Planned Parenthood sees a lot of students because at Olin they are required to see a clinician and the pill cost is higher.
Women should be warned there are possible side effects including nausea, vomiting, breast tenderness, irregular bleeding, dizziness and headaches. Sarah says it threw her menstrual cycle off and she didn’t get her period for a month.
Sarah has taken Plan B twice in the past, but said she does not want to put herself in that position again in the future. She said she will continue to recommend it to friends who have unprotected sex, though. “I would do everything in my power to never come to that situation again, but if it came down to me being pregnant before I was ready, I would have to take it,” said Sarah.
Milczarski said she has never personally had any friends who have taken emergency contraceptive but they are aware of her views on the subject. “If one of my friends were thinking about taking it, I might try and talk them out of it but if they told me they had already taken it, I wouldn’t look down on them because it is ultimately their own choice.”
As of now, when Plan A (condoms, birth control pills, abstinence) fails, Plan B is available only by prescription. And its availability continues to rest in the hands of the FDA.

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