On February 4, the Department of Defense (DoD) published its decision to guarantee availability of emergency contraception (EC) to women in all military facilities. This decision adds Next Choice, the generic version of levonorgestrel (Plan B) to the basic list of medications that all military facilities are required to stock by law.
The availability in military facilities would follow U.S. laws, making the product available over the counter for women 17 or older and by prescription for younger women. EC can prevent pregnancy if it is taken with 72 hours following unprotected intercourse or contraceptive accident. Plan B was approved by the FDA in 1999 as a prescription medication. In 2002, it was approved for over the counter distribution for women 18 years or older. In 2009, over the counter access was extended to 17 year olds.
In 2002, the DoD Pharmacy and Therapeutics Committee recommended that EC be added to the list of medications, but the decision was rescinded for review and never carried out. In November of last year, the same committee renewed its recommendation.
Women are currently up to 20% of active military members. A 2003 report by the Pew Hispanic Center reports that Latinos make up 9.49% of the military, a number that has been growing since. Access to basic health care in the military is an important issue for women and Latinos.
Especially considering the high rates of sexual assault in the military, access to EC is absolutely crucial. BBC reported last week that sexual assault against women in the US military is a “widespread problem.” In 2009, the DoD estimated that 90% of rapes in the military are unreported. The DoD needs to take immediate action to prevent sexual assault and punish sexual offenders. However, access to EC is important not just for victims of sexual assault, but for all women. Contraceptive accidents can happen anytime, and EC is part of a comprehensive reproductive health care plan.
Ensuring access to EC a long overdue step towards reproductive justice in the military. Next might we will see some significant action in repealing the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy?
By Zarah Iqbal, Policy Intern