With the continuing war on women’s rights, sometimes it’s difficult to know where to focus. The government is slowly narrowing down our options and control over own bodies to an extent that’s alarming even for some conservatives. I feel us sinking slowly into The Handmaid’s Tale, and I wonder when the day will come that we are officially made second class citizens, unable to own property, vote, or work outside the home. With things going the way they are, that day might be sooner than you think.

The thing is, fertile women have to make plans in their lives, along with informed choices. Plan A for many of us is “don’t get pregnant.” But there’s also Plan B, which is “what happens if I do get pregnant or have unprotected sex.” We don’t like to think about Plan B, but it’s a good thing to be prepared for. What will you do if you have unprotected sex? What will you do if you end up pregnant due to a malfunction of birth control? Better to know now than figure it out later, and there are a variety of solutions to the problem available, including the aptly named Plan B, an emergency contraceptive pill “for when things don’t go as planned.”

I’ve been thinking about Plan B because it’s been in the news a lot lately, thanks to claims that the FDA is going to release a decision on whether or not to make it available over the counter (otc). This decision has been dragging on since the earlier part of 2003, and has been repeatedly blocked, politically. Now, at last, we may have a decision on whether or not the drug will be available to women over 18 without a doctor’s note.

As anyone who has ever had a condom break, or ever been raped, knows, OTC availability of emergency contraception is a very, very good idea, given the limited window of time in which it is effective. Even Mr Bush admits that he “supports the availability of safe and effective products and services to assist responsible adults in making decisions about preventing or delaying conception.”

So what exactly is emergency contraception?

It works a lot like normal birth control, in that it prevents ovulation. This is why there’s a narrow window of time (according to the manufacturer, Barr Pharaceuticals, it’s 72 hours) in which the pill will work. Plan B is not an abortifacient–it only works to prevent pregnancy, not to terminate it. The drug uses a series of two levonorgestrel tablets, one taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, and the other 12 hours after the first. The drug can cause nausea, abdominal pain, and a variety of other side effects, but in a crisis situation it can be a life saver.

A number of brands of birth control can also be used for emergency contraception purposes, in a pinch. In the meantime, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that women maintain a standing prescription for Plan B in case of emergency. (It’s a good idea to make sure that prescription is filed with a pharmacist who will provide it to you when you need it, rather than imposing morals on you.)

OTC availability of Plan B makes good sense. Women should have control over their own bodies and reproductive processes–our access to the tools we need should not be infringed by other people’s moral qualms. It would in all liklihood reduce the number of abortions, because women could rapidly and easily access the drug in time to prevent pregnancy.

Yes, women under the age of 18 would be able to access Plan B more easily through OTC sales, but I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing. The drug is approved for use in women age 17 and up, and the fact of the matter is that women under the age of 18 do engage in sexual activity and should be able to take control of their own fertility. Perhaps having access to pills that aren’t past dated and are from a reliable source wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

I don’t believe that OTC availability of Plan B is likely to cause an increase in sexual activity or a decline in American morals. I think simply that if you can buy condoms, vibrating cock rings, male enhancement products, and “vaginal stimulation creams” at pretty much any drugstore, that you should also be able to purchase emergency contraception, which is not, after all, designed for daily use. A broken condom should not result in a stressful visit to the Clinic, waiting to be seen by an exhausted nurse, when you should just go to the corner store and pick up some Plan B. Rape victims should be able to access the drug without questions, if they need to.

Most women will at some point in their lives have a need for emergency contraception. It’s a fact of life. Why make it any harder than it needs to be?

[Plan B]