Char-Koosta News

The Official Publication of the Flathead Nation online

August 26, 2010

Campaign seeks to make Plan B pill available through IHS

By Lailani Upham

PABLO There is an emergency contraception for women 17 years and older on the market approved through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration; however, according to the Native American Women's Health Education Resource Center Executive Director Charon Asetoyer, it is not available through most Indian Health Service pharmacies.

The emergency contraceptive is known as Plan B, and has been available since 2006. Sometimes known as "the morning after pill," it contains a high dose of levonorgestrel, a hormone that prevents ovulation.

Plan B is not an abortion pill.

According to Asetoyer, NAWHERC is making concerted efforts to have Plan B accessible through Indian Health Service as an over-the-counter option by launching a public awareness campaign. The campaign calls for rightful access to Plan B through (IHS), especially for survivors of sexual assault.

According to Asetoyer, following a NAWHERC Survey Report and Routable Report, the campaign aims to address the actions exhibited by the Indian Health Service's inability to provide this needed healthcare to Native women in regards to their sexual health and reproductive rights.

The tablet is taken within 24 hours of unprotected sex and reduces the risk of pregnancy by 95 percent. The method not only works fast; it is less harsh on the body than the options that are being used through most Indian Health Services, she said.

One of the reasons it is so important for IHS to offer this option is due to the far off locations that most Indian reservations are; which make it a barrier for Native women to get the contraceptive if they have to travel to towns. "Some women don't have the resources to get Plan B from their local Walgreens or other pharmacies. Some women don't have cars, or money for gas either," she explained.

Asetoyer said that native women should have the same choice as other women across the U.S. to have access to the Plan B method for preventing pregnancy.

Although Plan B has been available without a prescription to adult women since 2006, the NAWHERC Survey found that it is not provided over-the-counter at 90 percent of IHS pharmacies. This alarming percentage clearly documents that IHS pharmacies are not abiding by the FDA's decision to make Plan B available, Asetoyer said.

Furthermore, the survey also revealed that 40 percent of IHS pharmacies provide Plan B, but only by prescription. This is highly problematic as the efficacy of Plan B is extremely time-sensitive, and requiring a woman to wait long hours at the clinic to see a healthcare provider could greatly reduce the effectiveness of Plan B.

Asetoyer also stated that IHS facilities lack standardized policies and immediate access to Plan B for survivors of sexual assault, which violates the reproductive rights of Native women. Only 56 percent of IHS facilities provide victims of rape with access to Plan B, whereas an additional 17 percent of IHS facilities provide a different though less effective and more physically stressful prescription form of emergency contraception, she said.

"Native women are denied their legal right to Plan B, which illustrates the federal government's control over the right of Native women to govern their own reproductive decisions," she said.

Given the rural locations of many reservation communities, IHS facilities that do not provide immediate emergency contraception severely limit the reproductive freedoms of Native women in those communities. This campaign strives to ensure that emergency contraception, such as Plan B or its generic equivalent, is available at all IHS facilities OTC to any woman 17 years or older and is incorporated into the IHS sexual assault policies and protocol.

Currently the local Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Health pharmacies do not offer the over-the-counter Plan B option. However, it does provide a method of emergency contraceptive that is prescribed by a doctor, according to Tribal Health pharmacy officials.

Plans are unknown whether or not CSKT Tribal Health will offer the Plan B option.

"One person cannot do it alone. We need the support of our leadership, so we (native women) can have access to Plan B," Asetoyer said.

For more information or to order the survey or roundtable on Plan B availability contact the Native American Women's Health Education Resource Center at (605) 487-7072.

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