October 29, 2012 — A patchwork of policies at hospitals and clinics run by the Indian Health Service impedes timely access to emergency contraception for many American Indian and Alaskan Native women, AP/Bloomberg Businessweek reports.
Although women ages 17 and older can legally purchase EC from retail pharmacies, IHS does not operate any retail pharmacies. To obtain EC, women in federally recognized tribes must visit a clinic, emergency department or urgent care facility for a consultation before receiving a prescription.
Critics argue that the process is time-consuming and burdensome. IHS Chief Medical Officer Susan Karol announced in May that the agency is developing a policy aimed at making EC available without a prescription, but it has not been released.
Further, women might live hours from IHS facilities, which cuts into the window of time when EC is most effective. In addition, wait times are inconsistent and not all facilities operate around the clock.
"There's not consistency and continuity that women should be able to expect through the system in terms of being able to access Plan B or its generic counterpart," according to Charon Asetoyer, director of the Native American Women's Health Education Resource Center in South Dakota. An informal survey by the resource center found that some facilities do not carry EC, or they offer it only at a physician's discretion, while others have expanded the list of people who can provide EC to patients.
Don Downing, a clinical professor at the University of Washington's School of Pharmacy, said, "If you set up too many hoops to jump through and too much time to wait, there's a tendency of women to not go after the service at all and just hope that 'I don't get pregnant.' Those barriers are real" (Fonseca, AP/Bloomberg Businessweek, 10/25).
Debra Ness, publisher & president, National Partnership
Andrea Friedman, associate editor & director of reproductive health programs, National Partnership
Marya Torrez, associate editor & senior reproductive health policy counsel, National Partnership
Melissa Safford, associate editor & policy advocate for reproductive health, National Partnership
Perry Sacks, assistant editor & health program associate, National Partnership
Cindy Romero, assistant editor & communications assistant, National Partnership
Justyn Ware, editor
Amanda Wolfe, editor-in-chief
Heather Drost, Hanna Jaquith, Marcelle Maginnis, Ashley Marchand and Michelle Stuckey, staff writers
Tucker Ball, director of new media, National Partnership