What You Should Know About Stockpiling Plan B

the pill

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On June 24, the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade. Without federal protection for abortion, it is now up to individual states to regulate or ban the procedure.

Key Takeaways

  • The Supreme Court is poised to end the federal protection of abortion rights, according to a leaked opinion draft.
  • In the hours after the news broke, some took to social media, encouraging others to get an emergency supply of Plan B, birth control, and abortion pills in case access to those medications is restricted.
  • While it may be wise to have Plan B on-hand, experts warn that the pills eventually expire and hoarding them may limit access for others.

On Monday, Politico published a leaked draft opinion indicating that Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that guarantees the right to access abortion, may soon be struck down.

In the hours after the news broke, social media was flooded with frenzied messages about stockpiling birth control and Plan B. Interest in the search terms “abortion pill” jumped three-fold and “buy plan b” quadrupled, according to Google Trends data.

Twitter users shared links to purchase Plan B online, urging others to build an emergency supply in case the medication becomes difficult to acquire. In an email to Verywell, a CVS spokesperson said emergency contraception “continues to be available at CVS Pharmacy locations,” but gave no updates on sales.

Plan C, a nonprofit that provides information about getting medically safe abortion pills, saw 56,000 visitors after the news, according to The Washington Post. Those seeking an abortion can get the pills online, sometimes from overseas pharmacies that aren’t beholden to U.S. laws. Plan C allows people to order abortion pills, “to keep in their medicine cabinet just in case their period is late.”

The Abortion Pill

Mifepristone, commonly called the abortion pill, is taken with a second pill, misoprostol. The drug can be taken at home, but often requires a prescription.

What Are Your Options for Emergency Contraception?

There are currently two types of emergency contraception approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Plan B One-Step, sometimes called the “morning-after pill,” is the only emergency contraceptive that is available without a prescription requirement. There are several generic versions of this formula, including AfterPill, My Way, Next Choice One Dose, and Take Action.

Plan B and its generic counterparts are available over-the-counter at most pharmacies and can be ordered online. Plus, as of 2013, people of any age can buy it.

Plan B contains a concentrated dose of levonorgestrel (a type of progestin), a synthetic hormone found in many other forms of birth control. The progestin prevents pregnancy by stopping or slowing ovulation, so that sperm in the uterus or vagina doesn’t have a chance to fertilize an egg.

The other emergency contraceptive is a medication called Ella (ulipristal), which requires a prescription. Plan B is less effective for people who weigh more than 155 pounds or have a body mass index (BMI) greater than 25. Ella, meanwhile, remains effective for this group, said Sophia Yen, MD, MPH, a clinical associate professor at Stanford Medical School and co-founder of Pandia Health, a birth control delivery company.

Yen said copper and hormonal intrauterine device (IUDs), which can also work as emergency contraceptives, are even more effective than Ella for people with a BMI greater than 25.

BMI Limitations

BMI is a dated, flawed measure. It does not take into account factors such as body composition, ethnicity, sex, race, and age. 
Even though it is a biased measure, BMI is still widely used in the medical community because it’s an inexpensive and quick way to analyze a person’s potential health status and outcomes.

To best prevent pregnancy, Plan B should be taken as soon as possible after sex, and within 72 hours. Take Ella within five days of having sex.

Because time is of the essence with the morning-after pill, Yen said she recommends her patients keep a supply of emergency contraception on hand. This can save you the time and effort of rushing to a drugstore after unprotected sex.

Does the Morning-After Pill Expire?

Plan B has a shelf-life of four years and Ella expires after three years. For the exact month and year that the pills are set to expire, you can consult the information printed on the side of the box.

When purchasing an emergency contraceptive, Yen recommends asking the pharmacist or health provider for the drug with the furthest expiration date.

The medications will stay potent for longer if stored correctly. This means keeping it in a dry, dark place. You might consider keeping it in a closet or drawer in a place other than the bathroom, where it can get steamy or moist. It’s best stored at room temperature, or between 68 and 77 degrees.

Have an Emergency Stash, but Don't Hoard Supply

It’s smart to keep a back-up supply of emergency and non-emergency contraception. Yen recommends having your birth control automated or opting for a long-acting reversible contraceptive, such as an IUDs, that can protect you for years.  

But some are warning that access to the medications might become even more limited if people decide to hoard them.

In a tweet, author Amy Jo Cousins wrote: “Please do NOT order Plan B tonight unless you have an actual plan to distribute it in your community, or we'll have a million doses expiring in medicine cabinets while folks who need it can't get it, because it's sold out.”

Others shared links to distribution networks and mutual aid systems that dole out medication in their communities to people who need them.

“If people hoard [the pills], then those that need it won’t be able to get it,” Yen said. “However, if I were in one of the 28 states that might outlaw abortion, I would at least have some emergency contraception. Abortion medication is harder to get and more expensive.”

What This Means For You

Most insurance plans cover emergency contraception and birth control at no cost when prescribed by a doctor. Your plan may also cover over-the-counter emergency contraception at a drug store.

By Claire Bugos
Claire Bugos is a health and science reporter and writer and a 2020 National Association of Science Writers travel fellow.