Despite a 2013 federal district court ruling that approved over-the-counter emergency contraception for “all women of reproductive potential,” Native American women—particularly teenagers—who depend on Indian Health Services (IHS) facilities for their health care have battled inconsistent availability at best and illegal restrictions at worst. Now, a policy update aims to ensure that all women who turn to IHS for help to prevent pregnancy can go home with a Plan B One-Step pill.
A 2014 survey conducted by the Native American Community Board found that while 80 percent of IHS pharmacies sell Plan B over the counter, only 28 percent correctly administer it regardless of age. And 11 percent still require a prescription, while nine percent don’t offer it at all. This is especially troubling when statistics show that 34 percent of Native American women will be raped in her lifetime, which is nearly double the average rate (17.6 percent) in the U.S. Emergency contraception may be the only thing standing between a victim and a pregnancy born of rape.
The update requires that all IHS-run pharmacies, clinics and emergency departments have it in stock; distribute it to any woman (or her representative) who asks for it without a prescription, age verification, registration or any other requirement; provide orientation training to all staff regarding the medication; provide unbiased and medically accurate information about emergency contraception; and make someone available at all times to distribute the pill in case the primary staffer objects to providing it on religious or moral grounds.
“The updated policy IHS released today is a long overdue and important step toward ensuring that Native American women have equal access to emergency contraceptive care,” ACLU legislative counsel Georgeanne Usova said in a statement. “The policy must now be rigorously enforced so that every woman who relies on IHS for her health care can walk into an IHS pharmacy and obtain the services she needs and is legally entitled to.”