Fed up with the roadblocks facing women who try to obtain the "morning-after pill," the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists today announced its "Ask Me" campaign, which encourages patients to obtain an advance prescription from their ob/gyn.
Plan B, the brand name for emergency contraception, can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus after a woman has unprotected sex or experiences contraceptive failure (like a condom breaking). It has to be taken within 72 hours of having sex and is made of the same hormones used in birth control pills.
ACOG, which represents more than 49,000 U.S. obstetricians and gynecologists, has long advocated for national over-the-counter access to Plan B, and has accused the Food and Drug Administration of stalling to approve over-the-counter use for political reasons.
"This is really a call to action -- a call to make Plan B available and to make sure patients know how to use it," said Dr. Vivian Dickerson, the college's past president. "This is a call to physicians to educate their patients and to discuss this with their patients. This is a call to patients that this is something available, that this is an option available. Most importantly, this is a call to the FDA so they can make a decision."
Emergency contraception is not the same as a medical abortion -- the RU-486 pill or similar drugs. Emergency contraception prevents a fertilized egg from implanting in a woman's uterus, whereas a medical abortion causes a woman's body to expel the already-implanted egg.
Currently nine states allow women to obtain Plan B without a prescription. Women in other states have to make a doctor's appointment to get the prescription, which can be tricky if a woman's doctor is not available.
"Even with a prescription, women can be denied EC [emergency contraception] because some pharmacists refuse to dispense it," said college President-elect Dr. Douglas Laube.
Laube is referring to pharmacists who in some states can refuse to fill prescriptions for emergency contraception and other drugs that they say are against their beliefs, regardless of the drug's safety record.
The "Ask Me" campaign will include posters for doctors' offices and red buttons that doctors and other health professionals can wear.
One of the posters states: "Accidents happen -- morning afters can be tough. … No matter what the circumstances, women need fast and ready access to emergency contraception. … Ask me today -- so you have it when you need it."
"We hear, 'I needed this yesterday. My regular doctor wasn't on call, and I didn't feel comfortable asking a stranger for a prescription. I couldn't discuss this personal issue with a doctor I don't know,'" said Dr. Iffath Abbasi Hoskins, who serves on the college's Committee on Health Care for Underserved Women. "We want patients to have a prescription when they need it."