Plan B Access in Western Pennsylvania

In the summer of 2009, the interns and staff at the western Pennsylvania office of the Women’s Law Project replicated work that was done in 2007 to gauge the availability of emergency contraception (specifically, Plan B) in several counties in southwestern PA.

Interns placed secret shopper calls to 404 pharmacies in Allegheny, Butler, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Lawrence, Washington and Westmoreland counties to ask if they stocked Plan B. The results for each county were as follows:

  • Allegheny: 20% of pharmacies did not have Plan B immediately available. Of those pharmacies, 27% refused to carry or order it.
  • Butler: 14% of pharmacies did not have Plan B immediately available. Of those pharmacies, 60% refused to carry or order it.
  • Fayette: 38% of pharmacies did not have Plan B immediately available. Of those pharmacies, 33% refused to carry or order it.
  • Greene: 21% of pharmacies did not have Plan B immediately available. Of those pharmacies, 50% refused to carry or order it.
  • Indiana: 31% of pharmacies did not have Plan B immediately available. Of those pharmacies, 75% refused to carry or order it.
  • Lawrence: 56% of pharmacies did not have Plan B immediately available. Of those pharmacies, 50% refused to carry or order it.
  • Washington: 56% of pharmacies did not have Plan B immediately available. Of those pharmacies, 20% refused to carry or order it.
  • Westmoreland: 35% of pharmacies did not have Plan B immediately available. Of those pharmacies, 74% refused to carry or order it.

After getting this initial data, WLP staff and interns made follow-up visits to 27 pharmacies in 4 counties to ask about their policy regarding Plan B, educate pharmacists on the drug if necessary, and impart upon them the importance of having emergency contraception in stock at all times.

The visits were successful. After visiting 27 pharmacies, 17 (63%) had either ordered Plan B and had it in stock as a result of our earlier phone call or expressed a willingness to order it for a customer who came in. Of the pharmacies who still did not have it in stock or were unwilling to order it, most of them said that they referred customers to other pharmacies if they asked for it.

Although there is still work to be done on educating pharmacists about Plan B (one pharmacist was unaware of its over-the-counter status) and making sure that all pharmacies have at least a few packs on the shelf, the project was very successful in raising awareness of emergency contraception in western Pennsylvania and the hurdles that many rural women have to go through to get necessary medicine.

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The Women's Law Project creates a more just and equitable society by advancing the rights and status of all women throughout their lives. To this end, we engage in high-impact litigation, advocacy, and education.
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