When the US Supreme Court overturned nationwide abortion rights, Julie Crowe went straight online to shop. She ordered 10 packs of the emergency contraceptive pill known as Plan B for immediate delivery.
Crowe, 52, is part of a larger trend of people who have rushed to buy the so-called ‘morning after pill’, often in bulk, after half a century of abortion rights being lost.
Online reproductive and sexual health provider Wisp saw emergency contraceptive sales jump 3,000 percent in the 24 hours after the ruling — and they’ve continued to rise in the month since, he told AFP.
But health experts warn that bulk-buying a drug that’s being sold legally across the country is unnecessary and risks taking the pills away from those most in need.
Crowe, a public school teacher from Nashville, Tennessee, was curious if her largely conservative condition would even allow for the delivery. But most of all, she wanted to have pills on hand to help anyone “who needs to take control of their own life.”
“It’s absolutely ridiculous that as a nation with civil rights and physical autonomy, we go back in time,” she told AFP.
Unlike the pills used to terminate pregnancy, emergency contraceptives prevent fertilization. They can be taken within five days, but the sooner a dose is taken, the more effective it is.
Calls to stock up have quickly gained traction on social media, prompting both online giant Amazon and drugstore chains like CVS and Rite Aid to temporarily limit purchase volumes to avoid pill shortages.
– ‘Very scary’ –
While health experts and reproductive health organizations like Planned Parenthood recommend keeping an extra emergency pill on hand, they advise against stocking up.
“I understand the urge,” said Hayley McMahon, a reproductive health researcher.
The prospect of not being able to terminate an unwanted pregnancy “can trigger a very instinctive feeling that you are using your body against your will”.
But “pharmacies often have a fairly limited supply,” she told AFP. “You don’t want to buy packs you don’t need when the next person who walks through the door might be running out of time.”
McMahon believes misinformation is driving the stockpiling rush.
The morning-after pill is sometimes confused with forms of abortion, she said, sometimes on purpose to create confusion.
This can lead to uncertainty about their legal status, although no legislation is in the works to restrict emergency contraception.
Savannah Norvell, a nanny in Richmond, Virginia, feared hoarding when she bought a six-pack of Plan Bs.
But she eventually decided that because she plans to give the pills away as gifts, the purchase would be justified.
Living in a low-income area with a lot of college students, she ordered from Amazon to avoid reducing local ready-to-stock inventory.
It’s a particularly personal issue for 27-year-old Norvell, who had an abortion when she was 18 after being raped.
She said she felt “embarrassed” and alone and didn’t know where to get plan B until it was too late.
Though she has no regrets about her abortion, Norvell told AFP she wishes she had had “another option.”
Norvell wrote on Twitter that she had extra pills to give away and has asked to join Facebook groups where members donate the pills afterwards to those in need.
– ‘Reinvent the wheel’ –
Well-intentioned as they may be, experts say such measures are misguided.
“As long as emergency contraceptives are available from regular providers, I see no benefit in individuals shipping them out of state to women,” said Caroline Moreau, a reproductive health specialist and associate professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.
Although it’s legal to mail over-the-counter drugs, she warned that it’s always safer to buy the pills from a reliable vendor than from a stranger online.
“There’s no real reason to reinvent the wheel,” McMahon agreed, noting that abortion funds were already working to ensure access to emergency contraceptives sourced directly from manufacturers.
In one such initiative, a group called Students for Reproductive Freedom recently installed a Plan B vending machine on-site at Boston University — and hopes to expand to other campuses.
Still, McMahon acknowledged that the stockpiling was “an expression of autonomy” over the Supreme Court’s decision.
Norvell, meanwhile, wanted to feel like he could make a difference somehow.
“It’s such an isolating feeling not being able to decide what’s best for you,” she said. “I don’t want anyone else to feel as alone as I have, and if I can help them, I will.”
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