Expecting the Unexpected

I recently read a critique of a television commercial for Plan B, aka “the day after pill.” One of the first comments was “Whatever your views on a woman’s right to chose, I can’t get over the dishonesty of ‘Oops, how unexpected!'” That comment caused me to blink, and then bubble with rage, especially since it was left on a website which is pretty pro-choice and pro-woman. Naturally, lots of people jumped onto the comment and tried to spell out why it was kind of, uhm, moronic, and I thought about adding my two cents, except that I had more like fifty cents, and I am shy about commenting on Jezebel.

For one thing, yes, Plan B’s big tagline is that, basically, unexpected things happen, but they don’t have to spell the end of the world. Now, maybe I’m just silly, but I read that as unexpected things like being raped or having another method of birth control fail. I don’t read it as having unprotected sex “by accident,” since people don’t have sex by accident, and I definitely don’t read the advertising as condoning potential pregnancies as “oopsies” which can just be quickly cleared up with a little medication.

In fact, the advertising very explicitly states that Plan B is not as effective as regular birth control, and that it should not be used as a regular birth control method. It is a backup method, which means that it is meant to be used in case of emergency, rather than being a first choice option.

The advertising also specifies that Plan B does not induce abortions. Now, for people who think that implantation=pregnancy, Plan B can technically cause an abortion. But for the rest of us (and the scientific community), Plan B is not an abortifacient, and it is not designed as one. RU-486 is an abortion pill. Plan B is a method of birth control, which is why it needs to be taken within 72 hours to be effective.

The more important thing about this dialog over birth control and the freedom of choice, however, is the fundamental issue that women have the right to control their own bodies. And this means that women should not be judging other women, and neither should anyone else. If a woman decides to go out drinking and have unprotected sex with a man she meets at a bar, and she takes Plan B the next morning because she doesn’t want to get pregnant, that is her choice. Likewise, if a happily married couple have sex and the condom breaks, and they elect to use Plan B because they are not ready for a child/don’t want another child/don’t want a child, period, that’s also their choice.

No other pharmaceuticals attract such attention. People don’t criticize antibiotics users, saying that they “should be more careful,” and that the availability of antibiotics encourages risky behavior. Pharmacists don’t try to deny prescriptions of anti-virals with the argument that these drugs are morally repugnant. You don’t see a clamor about aspirin being available over the counter.

It’s just birth control that attracts this attitude, this idea that other people should tell you how and when and why and how to use medications. Not only should they, but they have a right to, and that there are “good” and “bad” users of birth control, with varying lines of responsibility which divide people who “might have a legitimate use” for a medication from people who are just reckless, or careless, or lazy, or thoughtless.

It is not for you (or me) to tell other people what medications they can and cannot use, and in which circumstances.