According to a newly-finalized written policy, Indian Health Services (IHS)-run facilities must provide Plan B One-Step or its generic equivalent to American Indian women without a prescription regardless of age, expanding access to critical emergency contraception to Native American women across 566 federally-recognized tribes nationwide.

Prior to IHS’ most recent policy, American Indian women seeking emergency contraception faced significant obstacles. Though the FDA lifted prescription and age requirements on Plan B in 2009 and 2013, a 2014 survey found IHS-run pharmacies frequently denied emergency contraception to Native American women on those grounds, requiring American Indian women seeking Plan B to visit clinics and urgent care facilities and endure medically unnecessary consultations in order to obtain the medication. A 2015 similar survey conducted by Sen. Barbara Boxer (CA-D) and staff yielded comparable results.

Timely dispensation of emergency contraception is critical. Medications like Plan B inhibit ovulation by delivering a high dose of hormones used in birth control pills to prevent pregnancy. Though emergency contraception can be taken up to five days after insemination, such drugs are most effective the sooner they are administered. For Native American women especially, improved access to emergency contraception is particularly important. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 1 in 3 American Indian and Native Alaskan women will be raped in their lifetime, more than twice the rate faced by other women in the United States.

ACLU Legislative Counsel Georgeanne Usova applauded the move, but underscored the need for further action moving forward.

“The updated policy IHS released today is a long overdue and important step toward ensuring that Native American women have equal access to emergency contraceptive care,” said Usova. “The policy must now be rigorously enforced so that every woman who relies on IHS for her health care can walk into an IHS pharmacy and obtain the services she needs and is legally entitled to.”

Media Resources: National Partnership for Women and Families 10/19/15

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