I’m walking — OK, running — up the steps of the University Health Services Building. What I’m about to do has been playing through my mind in bits and pieces ever since late last night, or, depending on how you think about it, very early this morning. I don’t know what to expect, or how exactly I’m supposed to ask for what I need. All I really know is that I have to do it. It has to get done.
I check in at the walk-in appointment desk, grab a clipboard and sit down in the waiting area to fill out the form. This much I’m used to. I check the right box and wait until I’m called. When it’s finally my turn — by now I’m feeling physically ill with anxiety — I step up to the UHS representative’s cubicle and briefly, absently explain my situation. After a pause, the second person I’ve told about my problem pulls a green paper square the size of a Post-It out of a desk drawer and affixes it to my file. The square reads a bold, black “EC.” The speedy and casual procurement of this bit of paper brings on the first reassurance I’ve felt all day.
A few hours later, after a slightly comforting, sort of scary discussion with a nurse practitioner and a trip to the UHS pharmacist, I got home and popped the first of two Plan B pills I’d have to take that day. It was done. I couldn’t do any more.
If we’re to let idiots in high places like Pharmacists for Life president Karen Brauer decide what’s morally and medically right, conscientious, consenting adults like me (and most of you) would be, as it were, screwed. In a Washington Post op-ed printed March 28, Brauer compared a pharmacist filling a prescription for emergency contracception to a doctor violating the Hippocratic Oath. Pharmacists like Brauer — in Tennessee and Wisconsin and my home state of North Carolina — confuse or willfully disregard the distinction between an abortion and the way emergency contraception works.
Let me set the record straight: Like condoms, spermicides and birth-control pills, emergency contraception prevents the implantation of a fertilized egg. It won’t have any effect on an already-implanted fertilized egg (a pregnancy); emergency contraception prevents pregnancy at a stage where there’s simply nothing to abort. My medical education pretty much ended with high-school health class, but I can make the distinction between the two — let alone between proper patient care and religious vigilantism.
According to these maverick pharmacists, who cite spiritual beliefs when they refuse to fill prescriptions or return physicians’ orders to patients, neither I nor my doctor have the right to determine whether I receive emergency contraception. It doesn’t matter that I’m in school and have a 3.6 GPA, that I want to build a career after college or that I’m basically a decent person. It doesn’t matter that getting pregnant anytime in the next 10 years is my worst nightmare, that I take double precautions when having sex, that at best they’re just making my life hell for the few moments I’d have to deal with them, and at worst they’re threatening to take away my peace of mind, my self-esteem, my clear conscience, my sanity. I should burn for what I did, and they’re sure as hell not going with me.
What surprised me most about the only time I’ve ever gotten emergency contraception was the shame I felt until it was over. Not from the conviction that I shouldn’t have had sex before marriage, or that I should have been more careful — there was no way I could have been more careful — but because I felt stupid. Stupid, clumsy, unlucky, tragic.
Whether a woman is married, in a relationship or single, whether she has five kids or none, whether she has been prescribed a time-sensitive drug after carelessness or sexual assault, she should be treated with respect and fast, quality service. For about 12 hours, I was in danger of losing my lifestyle, my academic career and probably, as a result of my own disgust with the situation, my relationship with the person I’m closest to. I don’t deserve that — nobody does — and I thank those physicians and pharmacists who agree with me.
Jones is a Daily fall/winter associate arts editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.