Last Wednesday, the FDA approved a generic version of the emergency contraception pill, Plan B. For now, this new generic version of emergency contraception (EC) will only be available with a prescription to women ages 17 and under. The generic (thus, less expensive) version may become available over-the-counter to women 18 and over in August, when Duramed Pharmaceuticals will no longer hold marketing exclusivity for nonprescription use of Plan B. (You may recall that a court recently ordered the FDA to make EC available to 17-year-olds without a prescription and to reconsider its decision to impose any age restrictions at all on nonprescription use of EC. The FDA has begun the process to enable 17-year-olds to access EC over-the-counter, but – for now – 17-year-old women still need a prescription, but they will have access to the generic version of EC.)
Currently, over-the-counter Plan B can cost up to $55 for women 18 and older. Private insurance companies may not cover Plan B because drugs sold over-the-counter are often not covered by insurance, and some state Medicaid programs won’t cover it at all. The generic version will lower the cost of EC, making EC more accessible for the women who need it.
But, with the good comes the bad. Arizona and Louisiana are both about to enact laws that will make it more difficult for women to access EC and other vital reproductive health care services.
A harmful refusal bill in Arizona has successfully made its way through the state House and Senate and is waiting for Governor Jan Brewer’s signature. Among other anti-choice provisions, HB 2564 allows any pharmacy, hospital, or health professional, or any employee thereof, who cites a moral or religious objection, to refuse to provide EC. If this bill is enacted, Arizona hospitals could deny EC to sexual assault survivors and pharmacists could refuse to provide EC to women who need it, even though EC is a time-sensitive drug that is most effective in the first 12-24 hours after birth control failure, unprotected sex, or sexual assault. In addition to allowing refusals for EC, the Arizona bill would also allow pharmacists and pharmacies to refuse to fill prescriptions for some of the most widely used forms of birth control. We’re hoping that Governor Brewer recognizes that this bill will harm women’s access to vital health services and that she’ll veto the bill.