PALO ALTO, Calif. — Abortion opponents have been actively trying to pass legislation to limit access to abortions. Even though some doctors say emergency contraception like Plan B is not a form of abortion, women's reproductive rights advocates are worried restrictions will make accessibility for the pill even more difficult.
Dr. Mary Jacobson is an OBGYN who studied at Stanford and has dedicated her career to women's health.
"I am very concerned about women's reproductive rights," Jacobson said.
Jacobson said it's more important than ever to educate people about emergency contraception to prevent the need for abortion in the first place.
"Emergency contraception is to be taken by women who have had unprotected intercourse prior to pregnancy," Jacobson said. "Unprotected intercourse could mean that they have contraception, but they misused it. Let's say they missed a few days of birth control or the condom broke or unfortunately, maybe they got sexually assaulted. So it's taking a medication after unprotected intercourse prior to pregnancy."
Jacobson said there's a misconception that it can cause termination of pregnancy, but it cannot. It most commonly works by preventing or delaying ovulation. However, these misconceptions have caused there to be a lack of access to emergency contraception pills.
"If the patient wants to get it over the counter, the pharmacies may not stock it," Jacobson said. "The pharmacies may have it behind the counter where the patient has to ask for it. And that can be very uncomfortable to ask a person for it and with other customers around them. So that violates their privacy. Patients may not be able to afford it. Even patients with insurance, maybe they don't want their on their parents' insurance plan and they don't want to use the insurance."
One patient who says she experienced judgment when seeking emergency contraception is Alisabeth Macon. She lives in Arizona.
"One time, we did have a condom break, the only place to go is like the two pharmacies in town," Macon said. "And this is when it was still behind the counter and it was like $50 or $60. So being like 22 years old, that isn't the easiest thing to get. And then also just having to go up and ask for it and having the pharmacist's kind of look at you like you're a horrible person."
Macon says she always wanted to have kids, but she wanted them when she was ready for them. Now she says she's been blessed with two children.
"By waiting to become a mom, I own a house, I have a good job, I can provide for my kids," Macon said. "And my mom was a single mom and she can never do those things. So I feel like she had kids before she was ready. And so it was kind of nice to have kids when I wanted to have kids and be excited for them and to be able to take care of."
However, she says lack of access is still a big issue in her small town. That's why she got involved with Alpha Medical - a telemedicine company with a focus on women's health and a mission to provide access to care for some of the country's most underserved in rural areas across the U.S. Jacobson is Alpha's Chief Medical Officer.
"The woman can click in using her smartphone and complete a medical intake form online that gets automatically sent to one of our providers, our provider reviews that and then prescribes medication that can send medication to an external pharmacy," Jacobson said.
It's one method to provide better access, Dr. Jacobson said a change in federal and state policies will have the biggest impact.
"Getting access means maybe providing more affordable options, maybe providing free access to contraception," Jacobson said. "It means providing insurance for more people. It means educating, starting with sexual health education in school. And I think that education is the key to increasing access to care to women's reproductive health."
She said she knows some people oppose Plan B for various reasons, but she believes since it takes effect before pregnancy, that is when an egg attaches to the uterus, it will alleviate the need for women to decide whether to end a pregnancy later on.