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Life

Morning After Pill Gal Tells All

But not the story you might assume. Plan B is for the ultra-careful, too.

By Kathleen Haley 11 Jun 2004 | TheTyee.ca
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I'm single, 25, and hey, was I ever glad to hear I'll have an easier time getting my hands on the morning after pill.

If I sound like someone with a wild sex life, sorry to disappoint.

Sure, I have had sex before, but I am not someone who "gets with a lot of guys." In fact, people think I look sweet.  Not only am I not a player, I'm not even on the scene.

And yet when Health Minister Pierre Pettigrew announced recently that Health Canada wants to make the morning after pill available without a doctor's prescription, I smiled in recognition. Because I already belong to the Plan B pill club.

Tucked away in a small brown bag next to the hair dryer in my bathroom drawer is my pill pack. It came to me by accident in 2003 when a Planned Parenthood nurse included it in a bag with regular birth control pills.

I decided to keep it.

A woman takes the hormone pill within 72 hours of unprotected sex to reduce the risk of becoming pregnant.

I always take my regular birth control pill, and the levonorgestrel (Plan B's real name) will probably sit in my drawer until it expires in 2005.

But there's a big reason why I keep the morning after pill: freedom from worrying.

Plan B for the worrier

I look at the pill package sometimes for reassurance. If I suddenly come down with a flesh-eating illness, and forget to take my regular birth control pill, I will be able to take the Plan B.

And I'm a small person with zero alcohol tolerance. If I suddenly lose my mind, drink three beers in one sitting, and forget my pill, I know I can go to the brown bag in the bathroom and avoid an unplanned pregnancy.

The morning after pill is not just for sexually promiscuous women (um, not that there's anything wrong with sexually promiscuous women).  It's a reassuring recourse for women like me who might even be accused of approaching life too conservatively, too responsibly.

As I say, you can find me at home reading War and Peace…for fun. I watch a lot of CBC programming. I can tell you the reasons why California is in a budget crisis. And while I do have an extensive collection of rock music albums, the last concert I went to hurt my ears for days.

But like many of my friends, I have neurotically worried about pregnancy and contraceptives.

We worry about side effects of birth control pills. We worry about getting Toxic Shock Syndrome from tampons. We worry about unplanned pregnancies. I'm not advocating any one form of birth control or way of life, but I'm all for safe methods that allow women time to worry about things besides human reproduction. Plan B is one of those safe methods.

Why make it difficult?

So here's what I don't understand about the Health Canada proposal. It leaves women with another hurdle to jump over: they would have to talk to a pharmacist to get the Plan B pill.

Pettigrew explained in a May 18 Health Canada news release, "The fact that the drug would be available 'behind the counter' means that women would have timely access to the drug and receive professional health advice regarding its use."

But the Canadian Women's Health Network says the pills should be sold over the counter, without requiring a talk with a pharmacist.

The group notes in a letter to Health Canada that as of September 2002, countries including the United Kingdom, France, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Israel have approved the move to put the pills over the counter.

Health Canada already said in its news release, "The World Health Organization (WHO) has determined that emergency contraceptives are appropriate for general use and do not present health risks because they are used for only short periods of time."

If this pill has the WHO behind it, why is a pharmacist's advice necessary?

The fewer biological processes women have to panic about, the more time they have to read newspapers, play electric guitar and plan the future of the Anti-Land Mine Treaty.

If a woman forgets to take a birth control pill or a condom breaks, should she have to bring new Canadians into the world?

The morning after pill is for all the women out there who live on the edge. Fair enough. But it's for me, too.


Kathleen Haley is on staff at The Tyee.  [Tyee]

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