Flash mob at CVS focuses on morning-after pill

Stephanie Sequin, right, talks about why she thinks the morning after pill should be sold over the counter at the CVS on SW 13th Street on Friday in Gainesville.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, May 17, 2013 at 8:14 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 17, 2013 at 8:14 p.m.

Men and women in groups of four and five went into the CVS on Southwest 13th Street Friday evening looking for ordinary items: batteries, greeting cards, nail polish.

But when they all converged in the “Family Planning” aisle, and collectively placed their “Plan B-morning after” pills on the counter, it was apparent that their mission was another: “What do we want? The morning after pill,” they shouted.

“Where do we want it? Over the counter.”

Organized by the Gainesville-based National Women's Liberation group, the flash mob gathered about 50 people in support of its cause of making the morning-after pill available without a doctor's prescription to women of all ages.

And nationally, that's the way things were moving when in early April, a federal judge ordered the FDA to lift age restrictions of those who can buy the pill. The judge also ordered the pill be made available over the counter.

But early this month, the Obama administration appealed the decision and said it wants to maintain the prescription requirement for girls under age 15 and require those older than 15 to have a form of identification when they get the pill.

The federal judge, Edward Korman, said the reasoning was “largely an insult to the intelligence of women.”

Another federal judge will now rule on the appeal.

“I personally am angry that 63 other countries already have (the morning-after pill) without age and ID restrictions. Politics should stay out of women's lives,” said Candi Churchill, an organizer of the NWL and one of the plaintiffs in the national case, which is called Tummino v. Hamburg.

The NWL also has a chapter in New York, and the Center for Reproductive Rights there asked the Gainesville chapter members to be plaintiffs in the national case.

Churchill and others have been fighting to get the morning-after-pill approved for over a decade. The issue became important in Gainesville after a University of Florida pharmacist refused to give the morning-after pill to women based on his religious beliefs in the early '90s.

Geoffrey Mason, a lawyer and legal adviser with the national lawyers guild, has been advising the group since their efforts began, including various sit-ins at the FDA headquarters in Washington.

Mason, who was at Friday's flash mob, supports access to the morning-after pill for women of all ages and said that the Obama administration should drop its appeal of the judge's decision, “which was the right decision, supported by science, and overruled by politics.”

Mason added that there is currently a lot of confusion about who can get the pill. He went into a local CVS recently, and there was a sign that said people had to be 17 years old to get the pill.

“My feeling is that people who want the pill know what the law is, but the people working there might not,” Mason said.

CVS employees didn't react to the flash mob Friday, and a trickle of customers watched.

The flash mob lasted about five minutes.

“We were happy to get the word out,” said Erica Merrell, the co-owner of Wild Iris Bookstore, who participated in the flash mob.

Merrell said that age restrictions reflect “a society that still has a way to keep women subordinate. We're ready to make our own decisions,” she said.

Merrell added that legalizing the pill for all women is just one piece of a larger puzzle about sexual education and the need to teach kids about healthy relationships and sexual activity.

As former director of patient services at Planned Parenthood, Merrell has dealt with a lot of kids who were ignorant about their bodies and their risk of sexually transmitted diseases.

“We need to help them, and give them better resources,” she said. “But they're doing it (having sex). That's the one thing I wish we could all move past.”

And if and when sexual activity results in a pregnancy should be a woman's choice, the NWL argues.

Churchill, 37, the mother of a 3-year-old son, said, “As someone that has a child, I don't think childbearing and child-raising should be forced on someone. I used the morning-after pill until I was ready and it was our decision.”

Contact Kristine Crane at 338-3119 or kristine.crane@gvillesun.com.

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