WASHINGTON—Indian Health Services today issued an updated policy to ensure that Native American women can obtain emergency contraception at IHS facilities.
The update comes more than two years after a federal court ordered the FDA to approve Plan B One- Step as an over-the-counter drug for women of all ages without a prescription. It also comes more than five years after Native American women first reported that IHS facilities were failing to provide the women they serve adequate and appropriate access to emergency contraception.
"The updated policy IHS released today is a long overdue and important step toward ensuring that Native American women have equal access to emergency contraceptive care,” said ACLU Legislative Counsel Georgeanne Usova. “The policy must now be rigorously enforced so that every woman who relies on IHS for her health care can walk into an IHS pharmacy and obtain the services she needs and is legally entitled to.”
An investigation by the staff of Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) earlier this year found repeated examples of IHS pharmacies’ failure to comply with the up-to-date FDA guidelines, and a separate survey conducted by the Native American Women's Health Education Resource Center last year found similar results. Some pharmacies surveyed did not offer emergency contraception at all; others required a prescription; and others wouldn't provide it to women based on their age.
For some Native American women, if emergency contraception is unavailable at their IHS facility, the next alternative may be hundreds of miles away. However, emergency contraception is most effective the sooner it is taken, with effectiveness decreasing every 12 hours. The distance and potentially insurmountable transportation costs make timely access to emergency contraception difficult, if not impossible, for many women.
In addition, statistics show that more than one in three Native women will be raped in their lifetime — more than double the rate reported by women of all other races. A woman who is sexually assaulted and relies on IHS may not be able to take necessary steps to prevent a pregnancy that occurs as the result of rape.
The updated policy can be found at: https://www.ihs.gov/IHM/index.cfm?module=dsp_ihm_pc_p1c15