This past August, Plan B hit pharmacy shelves. Now, this brand of emergency contraception is available over the counter to women of all ages, a policy change that was celebrated by reproductive health advocates across the country. But social conservatives — who often misconstrue Plan B as a form of abortion — weren’t ready to give up the fight so easily. They immediately began laying the groundwork to lobby for emergency contraception restrictions on the state level.
And as state legislatures reconvene this month, some lawmakers are taking up the issue. As Robin Marty reports, a state lawmaker in Mississippi has filed a bill that would impose age restrictions on emergency contraception sales in his state. Under HB 29, young women in Mississippi would only be allowed to purchase over-the-counter Plan B if they’re over the age of 18, while minors would be required to go through a health care professional.
The politician pushing the new measure, Mississippi State Rep. Sam Mims (R), is no stranger to efforts to restrict reproductive rights. Back in 2012, he sponsored a bill imposing burdensome regulations on abortion clinics — a piece of legislation that threatened to shut down the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the only clinic left in the entire state. The Jackson clinic has been fighting to remain open ever since. Last April, right before a state hearing to determine whether the clinic’s license should be revoked, a federal judge blocked Mims’ law, pointing out that the harsh new rules represented a direct attack on women’s abortion access.
It’s clear that Mims’ ultimate goal is to lower the number of women having abortions. “We have to make sure that our children are not making bad choices… We want them to realize that that is a life, and so we hope they choose life,” he told NPR in a 2012 interview to explain his support for additional clinic restrictions.
But Mim’s new proposal to limit access to Plan B would directly undermine that goal. Multiple medical groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, support expanding teens’ access to emergency contraception as an important method of preventing unintended pregnancies. “I would much rather have a 13- to 14-year-old girl who needs emergency contraception have access to it than come to my office with an unwanted pregnancy,” one OB-GYN pointed out during last year’s political battle over Plan B. Of course, the number of unintended pregnancies is directly related to the number of individuals choosing to seek abortion services.
This isn’t the only example of Mississippi lawmakers’ unwillingness to enact policies that will actually help lower the unintended pregnancy rate. Despite the fact that Mississippi has the second highest rate of teen births in the country, the state still allows public schools to offer ineffective abstinence-only courses with no mention of birth control. In 2012, Gov. Phil Bryant (R) went as far as to blame teenagers for his own failed abstinence-only policies, claiming that young people simply “do not care enough” about birth control to use it.