Native Women Contraception

“In case of an emergency, please drive 40 miles to your nearest pharmacy.”

In the case of some Native women in this country, that may very well be the sign they see when seeking emergency contraceptives after sexual assault, failed birth control use or unprotected sex.

As an advocate for sexual and reproductive rights, a proponent of regular and emergency contraceptives and as a woman and enrolled member of the Seneca Nation of Indians in Western New York, I am appalled by this article I read that shows that other Native women are still getting the shaft when it comes to access to emergency contraceptives.

About two years ago, the FDA was mandated to make Plan B, the emergency contraceptive, available over-the-counter. No age limitations. No prescriptions necessary.

No questions asked.

Unless you’re asking at an Indian Health Service facility where they’re still legally allowed to deny Plan B based on age or require a prescription. For some Native women in this country, it’s not possible to get to the next nearest pharmacy because it could very well be hundreds of miles away.

Never mind the remoteness of some of the reservations across the country and why that’s a problem. There is an alarming implication of what this means for Native women in this country considering the fact that Native women are two times more likely to be a victim of sexual assault. And in the event of a sexual assault, if taken within 12 hours of the attack, Plan B can prevent an unwanted pregnancy.

For context, think about your day – something as repugnant as sexual assault happens to you, you have 12 hours to get this needed contraceptive, and you’re without a prescription or are underage. How easy is it for you to drop everything and drive hundreds of miles to the next nearest pharmacy?

The pain of a sexual assault is more than enough burden for a woman to carry in her heart. Not having access to medical options shouldn’t have to be something she’s concerned with after the fact.

So what gives at these IHS facilities? I have to believe that individual pharmacies have their hands tied behind their backs thanks to an unclear clause in the ruling. I have to believe that the FDA is just in poor communication with these remote pharmacies.

And that is all very much the case.

According to this letter to the Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell, this is what an investigation by the letter’s writers found, “According to pharmacists, some locations do not offer emergency contraception at all and of those that do, many imposed age restrictions varying from 14 to 18, contrary to FDA approval and product labeling. This problem demands a clear written directive to ensure that all IHS pharmacies are aware of and operating under the same rules.”

Those writers were Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Patty Murray (D-WA), John Tester (D-MT), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and Maria Cantwell (D-WA). As a Seneca from Western New York, I extend a huge Nya:weh (thank you) from me to those willing to tackle this issue.

FDA regulations are for all women and yet Native women continue to fight for these basic rights afforded to them. Native women seem to be battling a lot just to be heard and taken care of. It is unacceptable that this kind of thing is being let happen.

It’s time to include Native women in everything meant to improve the lives of all American women.

No questions asked.