For those who don't know, the emergency contraception – two pills you take with water – came very close to being offered in drugstores without a prescription thanks to the FDA's approval. It was pretty much a done deal, actually, until Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overturned the ruling, claiming that girls under 17 won't understand how to use it properly (because, you know, swallowing pills is complicated business). That means that if you're under 17 and, say, your condom broke – well, you're out of luck.
This all brings me back to the time I took the morning-after pill (not sure if was called Plan B back then, but it was the same deal).
It all started back in '96, when I met a guy – we'll call him "Steve" – while backpacking through Southeast Asia. Steve was charming and kind. His British accent didn't hurt matters, either. He made me laugh like no other and, in typical 20-something fashion, we had a short-lived but totally passionate affair that included the usual travel adventures topped off with non-stop sex.
We were always safe – I was on the birth control pill, he wore a condom – and always respectful.
A few years later we decided to reunite in London, his hometown, and then drive together through the countryside. We were both single and starting out in our respective careers. I was hoping to one day get married, have kids – but that was a plan for the distant future. In that moment, I was loving the single life and the freedom it entailed.
Don't get me wrong: Steve and I shared a deep connection and crazy chemistry, and we were mad about each other. But he wasn't exactly husband material, which is why I was enjoying our relationship for exactly what it was – fun, casual and filled with intense passion.
One night, we headed into a remote town for dinner and drinks. And more drinks. Then live music. Dancing. Hilarious encounters with random strangers. We made our way back to the B&B and the fun continued. At this point, I was off the pill but condoms were my trusty contraceptive of choice. Or so I thought.
"I need the morning after pill," I told him, and so the next morning we hopped in the car and drove for hours to the nearest medical center, which happened to be a hospital. We went to emerge, told them our situation, waited for what seemed like eons. Finally, it was our turn to see the doctor – a lovely woman in her 40s – and I explained that the condom had ripped and that I was petrified of being pregnant. She asked a series of questions, lectured us on STDs, then wrote me a script for the morning after pill.
"You'll feel nauseous and might have some cramping like with a heavy period," she told me before shooting Steve the dirtiest look I've ever seen. In fact, she gave him the evil eye the entire time. This woman was so kind and nurturing to me – she asked repeatedly if I was okay – and yet she treated Steve like he was the scum of the earth. (I kind of got a kick out of it.)
I took the pill and spent the day in bed watching made-for-TV movies and reading trashy magazines. And then it was done. I remember feeling slightly guilty about it, almost like, "What if I hadn't taken the pill? What if this was my one shot at parenthood?" I kept those thoughts to myself – they seemed so silly at the time – and returned home 48 hours later.
Three months later, I began dating someone new. We're now married with two children. Life is good.
But with all this talk of Plan B – and the debate over whether or not it should be available over the counter – I think not so much of my own children and what their options might be one day, but rather of that heated night in the English countryside, and how grateful I was back then to have the option of emergency contraception.
I wasn't young, and I certainly wasn't alone, but I still felt very panicked and vulnerable. I had always been so careful about protection – ridiculously careful – and so it was jarring to learn that mistakes happen despite our best efforts (I still have no clue how that condom ripped). [tagbox tag="contraception"]
We should all be practicing safe sex but as I learned first-hand, sometimes things don't go according to plan. Thankfully, I was in my 20s when I had my little "accident" and I would have been equipped to deal the situation either way (assuming I got pregnant, that is). But it's often those in their early teens who need help the most. They're the ones who are less inclined to turn to their parents, for instance (even if you're close with your parents, there's a big difference between telling them about a ripped condom at age 23 vs. age 15).
The truth is, teens are having sex and will continue to do so for all eternity. Accidents happen, rape happens, poor judgement happens. Having access to emergency contraception is vital. It would help prevent unwanted pregnancies, lower abortion rates and, most importantly, empower girls with choice. Imagine that.