Indian Health Services (IHS), the agency that provides most primary health care services for American Indian and Alaska Native people free of charge, will now provide emergency contraception without a consultation or prescription at its federally-operated facilities. This is a victory for reproductive health advocates who have worked to expand Native American women’s access to Plan B for years.

IHS does not have any retail pharmacies, so women seeking emergency contraception must wait at emergency care clinics, urgent care centers, or emergency rooms to obtain a prescription, then take it somewhere to have it filled. The time this takes can prevent some women from getting Plan B within the recommended 72-hour window.

Access to Plan B is especially important for Native American women because of the high rates of sexual assault they face. According to the US Department of Justice, about one in three Native American women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime, a number that is greater than any other racial group in the United States.

Women’s health advocates applaud the news but will still push for a formalized policy. IHS is only under a verbal directive right now to offer Plan B for women 17 years and older, which could easily be revised or rescinded. They also want IHS to adhere to the Food and Drug Administration’s new emergency contraception guidelines that make Plan B available without a prescription to women of all ages.

Charon Asetoyer, the director of the Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center, said, “We’ve made some progress, and we have to acknowledge that, but there’s still more. They’re still violating our rights to access by denying women who are age 16 and under . . . We have to ask, why are we being treated differently?”

Media Resources: Think Progress 9/23/2013; Associated Press 9/19/2013; Feministing 9/23/2013

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