Why API Women Need Plan B Over the Counter, by Christine Poquiz

December 7, 2012

Growing up, we didn’t talk about sex in my house. I learned about “the birds and the bees” through school programs and television. To this day, even as an adult, sex continues to be a taboo subject. We just don’t talk about it.

My experience isn’t unique; many Asian Pacific Islander (API) parents do not discuss sex or safe sex practices with their children because of cultural taboos. Furthermore, studies show that young API women and girls are uncomfortable discussing these issues with doctors, too. Unfortunately, this lack of communication contributes to un-safe sex practices. Comprehensive sex education and access to the full range of contraceptive options are needed to allow API women to control their own reproductive health and lives. This includes access to emergency contraception, or Plan B.

Currently, Plan B is only available without a prescription for people 17 years and older. Women 16 and younger must have a prescription, and all women must see a pharmacist to get the medication. One year ago, the FDA approved a pharmaceutical application to make Plan B available over the counter without an age restriction. Then, upsetting reproductive-health advocates like me, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius overturned that decision, ruling to keep Plan B “behind-the-counter.” Despite widespread support from medical professionals and experts for over-the-counter Plan B—the American Medical Association (AMA), the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have all endorsed it— this was the decision that was made.

This retreat was a disappointment for me and the API women I work on behalf of. Over two-thirds of API women are sexually active, yet less than 40% regularly use a contraceptive method. API teens are even less likely to use contraception, and we know that teen pregnancy rates among APIs are particularly high for certain ethnic groups; Native Hawaiians and Laotian Americans have the highest teen birth rates in Hawaii and California, respectively. I believe that, given the high rate of unplanned pregnancy among teens, emergency contraception should be available to them and not burdensome to access.

Requiring API teens to have a prescription significantly lessens the likelihood that they will use it. Like me at 16, many API youth simply don’t talk to their parents about sex and don’t have access to a doctor without their parents. Worse, they may not have the money to pay for the medication. Whether the medication will work depends on timely use, and these barriers make it difficult to use within the recommended 72 hour window. For API teens, the age restriction limits whether they can safely and effectively prevent pregnancy and continue living their lives.

The age restriction blocks access for adult immigrants, too. An unintended consequence of the restriction is that pharmacists may deny Plan B to immigrant women who do not have government-issued ID to show proof of age. These are often the poorest and most vulnerable women, who do not have healthcare or a doctor to receive a prescription from. Additionally, many immigrant women face language barriers and may not be able to communicate with pharmacists about their reproductive needs or fear doing so. Allowing Plan B to be available over the counter would significantly break down the barriers these women face.

I support Plan B being over the counter, and you should too! Please sign this petition and tell Secretary Sebelius to remove restrictions on emergency contraception and give API women the chance to choose!


Christine Poquiz is the Reproductive Justice Fellow at the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum. To contact Christine, please e-mail cpoquiz@napawf.org