After the announcement of the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade, the morning-after contraception pill has emerged as a sought-after purchase for many people worried about access to reproductive health care. Some women have bought morning-after pills in case they or their sexually active children need to prevent a pregnancy after having sex. Others are creating a small stockpile in anticipation of possible restrictions on contraception as Justice Clarence Thomas suggested in a concurring opinion published last week. Some women said that purchasing the pills gave them a quick burst of control or power, during an otherwise disorienting moment for proponents of abortion rights.
Chrissy Bowen, who is 51, was sitting on the couch Friday morning in her Texas living room when her husband noticed a breaking news message on the screen of their muted TV: the Supreme Court had overturned Roe v Wade, which would soon trigger a ban on the few abortion rights people in Texas still held.
After ducking into the shower, where she burst into tears, Bowen pasted into her group text chats with friends a link to My Choice Emergency Contraceptive, a tablet that can be taken up to three days after sex.
The so-called morning-after pill is an emergency contraceptive that works by preventing ovulation. It is different from abortion pills, known as misoprostol and mifepristone, which taken together are used to terminate an established pregnancy, according to Megan Freeland, the director of health communications for Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
“I’m buying more,” Bowen wrote in one chat about the morning-after pills, after noting that she had already purchased a few for her children in May, in response to a leaked draft of the Supreme Court decision published by Politico. “Reminder,” she texted another of the group chats, referencing an earlier discussion about buying the contraceptive. Then she ordered six additional pills, paying about $10 each (€9.50).
“The rules are the same for both my kids,” says Bowen, who has a daughter in high school and a son in college. “They’re to let their friends know that we have the pills and if one gets used, we need to replace it with a new one. I didn’t become a crazy buyer hoarding hundreds of pills, and I’m not trying to supply contraception to the whole town. I’m doing this because now abortion won’t be available and I’m worried that this sort of contraception soon won’t be either.”
Bowen checked on her order the day after the ruling and saw a notice on the Amazon seller’s page: the seller’s inventory had sold out.
As people across the country absorb the news of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the federal protection of the right to have an abortion, there is a swell of interest and demand for legal options available to people who want to avoid pregnancy. In the days since the decision, many women have looked for a tool to assert control over their own reproductive futures and logged on to retail and health care websites to buy emergency contraceptive pills that are taken after sex to try to prevent pregnancies.
Even before rallies and marches could be organised, the immediacy and access of the internet provided an outlet. The founders of Stix, a vaginal and reproductive health company that sells products such as pregnancy tests, yeast infection products and emergency contraception online, said that demand for Restart, its morning-after pill, surged by more than 600 per cent in the 24 hours after the Supreme Court announcement. A pill costs $38 and has up to a 20-month shelf life.
“Seventy-two per cent of those people were buying more than one dose,” says Cynthia Plotch, co-chief executive along with Jamie Norwood, of Stix.
Retailers are trying to shore up supply. On Friday, Wellspring Meds, the health care products website, together with the company’s Amazon store, sold more than 6,000 units of emergency contraception, up from 1,000 units the day before, said Ariel Kondov, one of the company’s owners.
“I don’t think anyone is prepared to support the demand” with current inventory, Kondov says. He reached out to morning-after manufacturers on Friday who assured him they are increasing production and will continue to meet the surging demand.
Currently, there are two primary products in the emergency contraception (or morning-after) category.
Plan B is the best known brand of morning-after pills. Levonorgestrel is the main ingredient in Plan B and other over-the-counter morning-after pills. Taken within 72 hours of sexual activity, levonorgestrel prevents pregnancy by interfering with the process of ovulation. It is less effective in people who weigh more than 165 pounds, according to Planned Parenthood.
Ella, a prescription morning-after pill containing ulipristal acetate, can be taken as late as five days after sex. It may be more effective than Plan B in women who weigh more than 165 pounds (but not more than 195 pounds), according to Planned Parenthood. It also works by interfering with the process of ovulation.
Since some emergency contraception works better the sooner it is taken, Planned Parenthood advises that it can be a good idea to get it before it is needed, according to Freeland. “But also keep in mind that stockpiling or hoarding emergency contraception can limit the ability of people in your community” to get it.
Sarah McKenna, a 21-year-old spiritual adviser and tarot card reader in Pennsylvania, went on Amazon to buy three pills when the announcement was made, to add to the order she made last month after the draft decision was leaked.
“My first thought was that I would like to purchase morning-after pills not only for myself but for those who need it, because people are going to buy them and resell them for a crazy price,” McKenna says. “I have friends and family who can’t always afford those things and I wanted to just have some extra to make sure that the people who need it can have it. Even if I have to ship it to somebody randomly.”
McKenna purchased My Way Emergency Contraceptive, a generic version of Plan B One-Step that usually costs $8 a pill. An hour after her purchase, McKenna noticed that prices were climbing. The day after the announcement, it was sold out on the Amazon seller’s page.
“It’s going to keep happening,” she says of price increases and supply shortages.
McKenna has five morning-after pills in total and intends to keep some for herself. “It’s good to be prepared,” she says. She refrained from buying more because she didn’t want to keep others who might need them more urgently from accessing them.
As long as there are no laws making it a crime to mail contraception, she says, “I would definitely send it out to people if they needed it.”
Margaret Laws, who is 57, was visiting her sister in Oklahoma when she heard the decision and decided to buy morning-after pills that day. “I was just like, ‘I can’t just stand by and do nothing.’” Laws lives in Oakland, California, but spends one-quarter of her time with family in Oklahoma, a state that had the most restrictive law banning abortion in the country before the ruling.
With about $100 taken from her health savings account, she bought 10 pills. “My first thought was, ‘I’m going to find out where I can safely distribute these locally because there’s going to be some girl who either willingly or unwillingly has sexual intercourse and is afraid of getting pregnant,’” she says.
Laws, who is a lesbian and does not have sex with men, notified her network of women in the Tulsa area, especially those with daughters, to let them know that if they needed pills they can call her. She has also limited the amount she purchased.
If her outreach makes her a modern-day “drug dealer”, says Laws, or if it violates HSA rules because she purchased medical products that she herself is not going to use, so be it. “What the hell do I care at this point?” she says. “Let them come at me.”
Women with connections to states that have or will make abortion illegal have been especially quick to buy up the emergency contraception pills. Stacey Michelon, who is 52, is a board member of Illinois Planned Parenthood organisations and is an abortion rights activist. Illinois is a state expected to maintain laws protecting abortion rights. But Michelon is also the mother of five children, the youngest of whom attends Tulane University, located in New Orleans; abortion has been outlawed in Louisiana.
Michelon has ordered a few Plan B packages for her children, so that they would have enough for any friends who might be in need. This week she texted a group of parents whose children attend Tulane with her son, urging them to send their children to school this fall armed with morning-after pills. “Many of them were probably thinking I’m a loony tune, one of those liberal crazies,” she says. “But I felt like I had an obligation because our kids go to school in a state hostile to abortion care. And this is not just something we need to do for our daughters. Our sons need to know this is an issue for them too.”
Maria Ianni, a mother of a 21-year-old daughter and 19-year-old twins (a son and a daughter) in Kansas, felt the emotional pull on Friday to buy pills. She ordered six packages.
Ianni, who is 53, says she is not a proponent of abortion but a proponent of choice. “My oldest daughter is adopted and her birth parents made the decision to have her, which I’m so grateful for. But I am also glad that they were allowed to choose. If my children were in that position, if they were to become pregnant or get someone pregnant, I want them to have a full range of options.”
When she thought about what she could do to ensure her children have choices, she ordered Plan B. “I felt like my hand was forced,” she says. — This article originally appeared in The New York Times