EC=BC: An Overview of EC in NC

For 11 years, the Back Up Your Birth Control campaign has worked to increase awareness of and access to emergency contraception (EC) across the United States. An outgrowth of the National Institute for Reproductive Health, the campaign coordinates advocacy groups across the nation to execute an annual “Day of Action” promoting EC awareness.[1]

Today marks the organization’s 2012 Day of Action. This year’s theme, “EC=BC” (birth control), strives to destigmatize EC through the message that emergency contraception is simply a form of safe, effective birth control. To impart this notion upon the America public, Back Up Your Birth Control has asked supporters to create and submit visual messages, such as iconic photographs with “EC=BC” taglines on them, to be compiled on a tumblr page created specifically for the occasion: http://ecequalsbc.tumblr.com/.

In honor of “EC=BC” action day, we hope to provide our readers with an overview of the current status of EC access in North Carolina and introduce some of the barriers women in our state face when trying to use or obtain EC.

Emergency contraception, commonly known as the “morning after pill,” is a form of birth control that can be used to prevent pregnancy after sex; it does not work once a woman becomes pregnant, and it is administered in the form of a pill. The FDA has approved four brands of EC, but states retain the right to regulate EC’s sale and distribution.

In North Carolina, women over age 17 are legally able to obtain forms of EC over the counter in a standard pharmacy, but it is not uncommon for pharmacies to tell clients there is no EC in stock or to refuse to distribute EC because of their own moral objections. Women under age 17 must obtain a physician’s prescription to obtain EC. Additionally, though the Affordable Care Act will require that insurance plans cover a range of contraceptive devices, NC has chosen to exclude EC from the contraceptive coverage mandate. This means that, even under the new healthcare plan, many NC women will not be financially able to obtain EC.[2]

Since the late 1990s, states across the nation have taken measures to require hospitals to provide EC information, to allow pharmacies to dispense EC without a physician’s prescription, and to mandate that pharmacists fill prescriptions regardless of their own opinions on EC.[3] The expansion of EC access has been underway across the US for well over a decade, yet our state has taken none of these steps. In the fight for full reproductive freedom in our state, it is crucial that we heed the message of the Back Up Your Birth Control campaign and support efforts to expand women’s access to EC.

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