- JCI Worldwide
I Need Plan B
By: Jillian Hegedus
Do you remember the first time you changed in a locker room for gym class? You’re stripping down in front of a ton of people you might not know, trying to cover up any parts you aren’t ready for your classmates to see. You’re exposed. It’s embarrassing, it’s awkward, and it’s the only way I can describe what it felt like to buy Plan B for the first time from a Walgreens in very conservative College Station, Texas.
Walking up to the counter, where a middle-aged male pharmacist served as a gatekeeper to the emergency contraception I needed, sent me back to that locker room. I was embarrassed, I was awkward, and I couldn’t cover up any of my vulnerabilities because I had to ask this man for Plan B. Because I, an 18-year-old college freshman, had sex with my boyfriend and something stupid happened.
Scrambling together a plan of how to fix the situation wasn’t how we wanted the afternoon to go. Plan A was to meet up before my afternoon geology class, and now I was skipping that class for Plan B.
Fresh off summer jobs, my then-boyfriend and I easily split the cost of the $50.00 prescription. Armed with crisp twenty-dollar bills, a friend who offered to drive me, and lots of fear—I was at Walgreens. Feeling stupid and scared, I slowly approached and said meekly, “Hi, I um need Plan B, please.” The pharmacist frowned and said loudly, “You need what?”
His tone and volume indicated that I needed to be louder. That I needed to clearly announce to the others around me that I was a harlot. I’m now naked in the locker room and everyone is staring at me.
“I need Plan B, PLEASE!”
If he asked me why, I’d probably blurt out that it was because I’m not yet on birth control, because I don’t even know if I want kids, because I’m definitely not ready. And when or if I have kids, it’ll be my choice and on my timeline, and not be a result of my boyfriend’s inability to put on a condom correctly. Why? Because we live in Texas, an abstinence only state where we didn’t get to practice first on bananas.
But he didn’t ask my reasoning and only required my ID and within ten minutes I was washing the first of two pills down with a Diet Coke and heading back to campus to study for a quiz. Three months later I’d be on the pill and nearly 13 years later, I still don’t have kids. It’s a conscious decision that I am able to make because I am very privileged; I knew how to get Plan B when I was 18 to correct that mishap, I have access to quality healthcare and doctors who help me make educated decisions about my reproductive health. I have coverage for an IUD that provides me long term contraceptive care and I know that if anything did happen—I also live in a very progressive state where I can access abortion services without many barriers.
The other day I saw Plan B in the aisle of Target—you can just pick it up and have an employee unlock the little plastic case. It’s far easier than what I experienced in 2008 (which was by all accounts very easy) and while in many ways the U.S. has progressed--we are dangerously backsliding and slowly whittling away many women's ability to choose their own reproductive futures.
From the archaic Texas 6-week abortion ban and bounty hunting scheme, to heartbeat bills in Idaho and Oklahoma, to the Mississippi law currently being reviewed in the Supreme Court Case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, reproductive rights are slipping away. Many of my friends, my sister, my mother—we all stand on pins and needles awaiting the ruling of the Mississippi case, because it might mean the end of Roe v. Wade as we know it. And this won’t affect all who identify as women or those with female reproductive organs equitably. This ruling, the restrictive bans in certain states, will disproportionately affect rural, minority, and low-income communities.
Restrictive abortion laws and bans are part of a nearly 50-year battle waged by the religious right who latched onto this issue thanks in part to the GOP’s savvy political move of tying themselves to the anti-abortion movement. The move worked and has been attracting evangelicals, independents, and conservative Democrats to an increasingly more right-wing Republican party that is producing very conservative politicians.
I grew up attending Catholic mass and Sunday School and heard countless homilies and teachings about abortion. It was the issue to rally around because life, all life was allegedly sacred. And a clump of cells lining a uterine wall mattered a whole lot more than the life carrying them.
There are so many things I disagree with when it comes to those who oppose abortion rights, but it’s the name of this movement that makes me, well, furious. They call themselves pro-life, simplifying a very gray issue into black and white terms that insinuate if you are FOR choice, you are anti-life. But I argue, there is nothing more ‘pro-life’ than trusting a woman to make her own decisions about her body. To choose what she wants to do with her life.
I frankly don’t believe people who self righteously proclaim to be ‘pro-life,’ largely in part because their activism and advocacy often stop when the ‘life’ is born. Where are these activists when it comes to advocating for issues like paid maternity and paternity leave so that parents can take paid time off to take care of their children? Why aren’t they voting for politicians who advocate for things like universal childcare and Pre K? Where are all the pro-lifers when we talk about pay equity or increasing the minimum wage so that these lives can be taken care of by mothers who can afford to do so? Why aren’t they also advocating for comprehensive sex education so that future generations know how to prevent pregnancies?
For the most part, the most vocal pro-life activists and politicians support agendas that don’t advocate for gender equity or for specific systems to be put in place to support mothers, families, and children. They don’t vote for politicians who want policies such as raising the minimum wage, pay equity, paid family leave, and universal childcare. Their views are that being anti-abortion is in and of itself a way to advocate for mothers, families, and children because being pro-life means advocating to save human lives.
But as countless studies show, women who have access to safe and legal abortions have better qualities of life, as do their children (see also studies here, here, and here). I’d believe in the sincerity of pro-life advocates if they voted on policies that ensured once a woman gave birth, she’d have access to services like paid maternity leave and affordable childcare. But largely, the advocacy stops when it comes to supporting policies that promote gender equity. It’s absolutely no secret that many in the pro-life movement use this cause as a way to mask their internalized misogyny. A 2020 poll conducted by Perry Undem found that on questions about gender equality, “anti-abortion voters were significantly more hostile to gender equity than pro-choice voters.”
It’s also not a surprise that so many of the states enacting these restrictive laws are also states where ‘abstinence only’ education is how sex education is taught. And in many of the same states that only teach abstinence only education, there is no state-mandated paid maternity leave. So not only are these states restricting reproductive choice, they’re also not educating their citizens about the best practices to prevent unwanted pregnancies and they don’t have paid maternity leave.
Sample of data on states that have passed recently laws or have restricted abortion access:
*States that don’t actually have mandated sex education, but when it is taught–the chart data applies.
Sources used: Abstinence Only Education States 2022, State by State Abortion Laws in the U.S., A Guide to Abortion Laws by State
This means that if you are a woman in Texas who can’t get an abortion before six weeks, when you have that child (unless you have maternity leave from your employer), you don’t have paid leave to take care of your newborn baby. Since many low-income women work hourly jobs that don’t come with benefits, this places a very obvious undue burden on women who live in states with abortion restrictions, bans, and lack of paid maternity leave.
It's hard to celebrate Women’s History Month this year because of the dread I feel about the Mississippi case and that this debate, which reached some level of legal certitude in 1973, is still ongoing today. Everyone who identifies as a woman or who has female reproductive organs—has a fundamental right to their reproductive futures. Choice. That’s what this about—the right to choose and captain one’s own destiny rather than have it be decided for you by an old, male politician who never had to worry about what would happen to their life, their bodies, or their careers, because of an unexpected and unwanted pregnancy.
While not optimistic about the ruling, I know we aren’t necessarily powerless to stop it. There are organizations fighting for abortion access and women’s health that are always in need of donations to continue their critical work: California’s Black Women’s Health Project, Organization of #Voteprochoice, and Planned Parenthood are just a few you can consider supporting. My generation and generations of women younger than me, have never known a world without Roe v. Wade. We’ve witnessed state after state challenge this monumental court case, but we’ve taken comfort in knowing that Roe is law. There’s been criticism that Millennials and Gen Z aren’t engaging on this issue–but if you’re of our generation, you would see that’s false. From showing up to protests, to posting about what it’s like to be a clinic escort on TikTok, to jamming the Texas “Abortion Bounty Hunter” Line with false tips to break the system–we’re engaging and fighting for this issue in a way that is grassroots and digital.
We can also look to local politics for how to get involved (and polls are showing that Gen Z women who identify as pro-choice are significantly more engaged in politics than other Gen Zers). State politics play a huge role in this debate because it’s the state legislatures that are creating these dogmatic laws that make it up to the Supreme Court. One way to protect reproductive rights is to vote for politicians who want to spend their careers creating policies that support families and women rather than restrictive abortion laws. Elect more young, progressives who want to increase opportunities for women—not limit them.
Because every person should be able to say, without embarrassment or fear and with confidence in her choice:
“I want birth control.”
“I need an IUD."
“I want an abortion.”
“I need paid maternity leave that is at least 12 weeks.”
“I want to have this baby.”
“I need Plan B, PLEASE!”