It’s the beginning of a new legislative session in many states, and in Mississippi that traditionally means jumping straight to proposing restrictions on reproductive rights. This year, sadly, appears to be no different.
Republican State Rep. Sam Mims, the man who in 2012 spearheaded the bill that was meant to shutter the only abortion clinic in the state of Mississippi, has filed a new onslaught on reproductive rights. HB 29, if passed, will restrict over the counter access to emergency contraception to only those who are at least 18 years of age, requiring minors to obtain a prescription or get it directly from a doctor or health care provider.
Plan B, the most common brand of emergency contraception, was approved in August to be put directly on pharmacy shelves and available without any prescription or age restriction. Despite that FDA approval, in many places emergency contraception is still remarkably hard to get.
A number of news outlets banded together this fall, investigating the hit or miss nature of pharmacies and stores actually stocking emergency contraception, one of the biggest issues regarding access. The problems they reported were vast. Native Americans living in reservations had almost no access due to stores not stocking the drug, a serious concern in a remote, rural community that often experienced above average instances of sexual assault. After investigating, reporters in cities as diverse as Portland, Ore., and Louisville, Ky., wrote that stores often kept the boxes behind the counter rather than on the shelves where they were supposed to be and would erroneously ask to see IDs or refuse to sell if the customer was under age 18.
It continues to be a wide spread issue. According to a study from the Journal of Adolescent Health released in December, 20 percent of the almost 1000 pharmacies called across the country claimed that you must be at least 18-years-old (as well as female) to purchase Plan B.
That simply isn’t true. However, Mississippi would obviously like it to be, based on their proposed bill.
Mississippi wouldn’t be the first state to try to place an age limit on emergency contraception, forcing minors to obtain a prescription in order to access the drug. Last spring Oklahoma passed its own bill to make EC available only by prescription for those who were under age 17, and force all people to show ID to prove their age. The legislation was signed into law by Republican Governor Mary Fallin, but was blocked from going into effect by a state judge after the Center for Reproductive Rights sued. Although CRR sued on the basis that it was placing “unnecessary barriers on women’s access to emergency contraception,” the law also violated the “single subject” rule, meaning more than one issue was being dealt with in the bill. The Oklahoma legislature attempted to fix that issue by proposing the same restriction, this time in its own bill, but it became stuck in committee.
The Mississippi version of the bill would cause even more hardship than its predecessor in Oklahoma. By putting any age restriction on emergency contraception, it adds additional hurdles for any person of any age to access the drug, since all would then require an ID to prove a person was legally allowed to purchase. Even worse, the law would force 17-year-olds to also obtain a prescription, rather than just 16-year-olds and younger as Oklahoma did.
Mississippi has consistently been within the top two states in the country when it comes to teen pregnancy, and has long had any form of sexual education besides abstinence only banned from their schools. Access to emergency contraception — real access — could make a huge difference for teens in the state to help prevent unintended pregnancies. Forcing them to go to doctors to get that access? By then, with only 72 hours after unprotected sex in which to take it, it will be too late.
Is Mississippi’s bill signaling the start of a new red state push to cut off access to emergency contraception, even before that access has been fully established? If so, that signals bad news for both reproductive rights activists and abortion opponents alike. After all, preventing unwanted pregnancy is the best way to reduce the need for abortion.
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