by National Women’s Liberation, Gainesville, Florida chapter
In 2017, National Women’s Liberation’s Gainesville chapter campus committee launched a campaign to get the morning-after pill in vending machines on the University of Florida and Santa Fe College campuses. We were inspired by other universities already offering morning-after pill (MAP) vending machines, a number that continues to increase on campuses across the country.
The need was clear then, as it is now. Despite MAP’s over-the-counter (OTC) status, restrictions remain. It’s costly ($40-50), often in bulky anti-theft containers in pharmacies, or it’s even still behind the counter — though this should not be allowed as it is FDA-approved as an OTC medication. You can purchase MAP at the UF infirmary for $10 — but only if they’re open. Their limited hours are M-F from 8am to 4:30pm in the summer and M-F from 8am to 5pm and Sundays noon to 4pm during the fall and spring semesters.
The morning-after pill, often called emergency contraception or EC, as well as by its trade name Plan BTM and Plan B One-StepTM, is a medication that consists of progestin hormones like what can be found in your average birth control pack and is considered as safe as Advil. It prevents pregnancy if taken within 3 days of sex, but it’s most effective if taken within 24 hours.
MAP is birth control which prevents pregnancy. It is not the same thing as the abortion pill — which we are also organizing for. If you are already pregnant and you take MAP, it simply does not work. Unrestricted access to MAP is essential to preventing unwanted pregnancies and making sure we have one more convenient option for birth control available at our fingertips.
Now that Roe v. Wade has been overturned by the Supreme Court, we need to fight for every tool we can to regain some of the bodily autonomy that has been stripped from us. This includes fighting for increased access to birth control.
Members of National Women’s Liberation and its predecessor groups fought in a 10-year-long legal battle to win nationwide over-the-counter access to MAP. In the Tummino lawsuit, we successfully sued the Food and Drug Administration under President Bush and sued the Obama administration’s Justice Department to get the levonorgestrel formulation of MAP (Plan BTM) switched from prescription-only to its present-day over-the-counter status with no age restrictions. We organized countless direct actions and achieved wins through grassroots feminist movement.
The result was enormous relief in the United States, because by winning the fight against the FDA for over-the-counter status, MAP is easier to get now when we really need it, post Roe.
In 2013, the U.S. caught up with dozens of countries around the world that were ahead of us by not requiring a doctor’s prescription to get the MAP because it is safe. In the U.S., where we don’t have national health care, the MAP remains more expensive than in most other countries, but at least you no longer need a doctor’s appointment to get a prescription, and you can’t be carded for this birth control anymore — no more having to show an I.D. to prove your age to buy it. Anyone can buy it in a pharmacy — any gender, and any age.
NWL continued the lawsuit against the FDA to ensure that there would be no age restrictions on the MAP OTC status. Refusing to compromise on age extended our fight and lawsuit against the FDA by several years. There were several stages in the lawsuit, from 2005 to 2013, where the FDA would have settled but imposed age limits on who could buy the MAP without a prescription. We said no, because everyone would be forced to show an I.D. to prove their age to buy it. We said: old enough to get pregnant, old enough to decide.
Alia DeLong, NWL Gainesville steering committee member, was the chair of the NWL campus committee during the initial MAP campus vending machine campaign. From 2017 to 2020, NWL organized direct actions and met with countless local stakeholders to push hard to make the MAP vending machine a reality.
“NWL is committed to reclaiming any and all bodily autonomy now that Roe is overturned. We want to believe that the UF administration will support this, but so far their response has been less than lukewarm on the whole. We plan to continue the fight and build a feminist movement to make real wins here,” said DeLong.
Now, nearly five years after NWL’s original Alligator letter to the editor raising the demand for a morning-after pill vending machine at UF, UF student government in July passed a unanimous resolution to increase access to emergency contraception at UF in vending machines. The morning after pill vending machine is back in the hands of UF student government, the UF Infirmary pharmacy, and UF Business Services.
Key authors of the UF student government resolution include UF Graduate Senator Joe Andreoli, Minority Party Leader and UF Student Senate women’s caucus co-leader Faith Corbett, and UF District D Senator Ryan Athay. The resolution is a first step, but the vending machine project is not yet funded and there is not yet an implementation plan.
We need a movement of feminists to fight for what we really want, and to bring our ideas and initiatives, such as a MAP vending machine, to fruition. It’s just one small step, but we deserve that relief: easy access to low-cost birth control. Birth control at our fingertips.
Please come to the next Gainesville community NWL campus chapter monthly meeting, Thursday, Sept. 15 at 6:30 to 8pm: at Curia on the Drag, 2029 NW 6th Street. Or write to firstname.lastname@example.org to help build a campus committee to finish this fight for vending machines on campus. www.womensliberation.org.