Should You Stockpile Plan B as Roe V. Wade Hangs in the Balance?

An individual's right to an abortion is likely to be just the first attack on reproductive rights if Roe V. Wade is overturned.

Hand holding mound of pills
Photo: Stocksy / Marc Tran

The recently leaked draft of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade opinion has sent shockwaves across the nation. The move to overturn an individual's right to an abortion in the draft opinion is expected to be merely the first salvo of a broader effort to restrict access to birth control, emergency contraception, and medication abortions–also known as the abortion pill.

In the leaked draft opinion, Justice Samuel Alito argues that the landmark 1973 Roe opinion was "egregiously wrong" because it protected a right that was not included in the text of the Constitution, and was not protected by the original meaning of the Constitution. Justice Alito further added that abortion was not traditionally safeguarded as a constitutional right.

This is troubling because, as University of California, Berkley School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky recently explained in an article for Time: "By that reasoning, countless other Supreme Court decisions protecting basic aspects of privacy and autonomy were wrongly decided as well," including the critical 1965 case Griswold v. Connecticut, in which the Court held that the Constitution protects a right to purchase and use contraceptives.

"It, too, is not a right in the text of the Constitution or contemplated when the document was ratified or that was historically protected," explained Chemerinsky. "I expect that after Roe is overruled some states will quickly pass laws prohibiting types of contraceptives that act after conception, like the IUD and the morning-after pill."

This prospective reality raises important and concerning questions, including how best to protect your reproductive health before a final decision on Roe v Wade is handed down.

Should individuals begin stockpiling the morning after pill, also known as Plan B? Or the medication abortion pill for that matter? And what other measures might you take now to prepare for any looming changes?

Changes on the Horizon

It's important to note that Chemerinsky is not a lone voice when it comes to the fears expressed regarding the future of reproductive rights in this country in a post-Roe v. Wade environment. Similar sentiments have been echoed by experts far and wide.

"It is very concerning that the rationale for overturning Roe could be used and applied to other rights that we currently have, such as birth control, marriage equality, and interracial marriage," Meera Shah, MD, a family medicine physician and chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic, told Health.

In other words, the reasoning Justice Alito uses for striking down Roe could easily be applied to rights now protecting everything from interracial marriages to same-sex marriages–none of which were specifically called out in the text of the Constitution. The Constitution also does not specifically protect the right to purchase and use birth control.

"It is no secret they are coming for access to birth control and emergency contraception next. You'll soon see false narratives that these are abortifacients (they are not) and the extreme right will use that as an excuse to try to ban them, as well," Jennifer Lincoln, MD, an OB/GYN in Portland, Oregon, told Health.

Should You Stockpile Plan B?

While fears regarding the potential loss of reproductive rights are valid, there are several concerning issues surrounding the idea of hoarding Plan B, or morning-after, pills.

According to Dr. Shah, individuals rushing to purchase large quantities of Plan B could quickly dry out the supply and limit access to people who actually need the medication right now.

Yet another concern regarding stockpiling Plan B is the potential expiration of the medication. It expires after four years. And while taking the pill past its expiration date is not necessarily harmful, it could make the pill less effective at preventing pregnancy, Aishat Olatunde, MD, an OB/GYN at Einstein Medical Center and fellow with the Physicians for Reproductive Health, told Health.

"It's recommended to use all sorts of medications within their recommended dates," said Dr. Olatunde.

Dr. Shah also does not recommend buying excessive amounts of Plan B. However, she says if Plan B is your main method of contraception, you may want to keep one or two available.

And if you do keep emergency contraceptives at home, be sure to store them in a cool dark place. Dr. Lincoln suggests not storing them in your bathroom, which can get humid and, therefore, is not ideal for medications.

Where Can You Get Plan B?

Currently, Plan B or its generic versions can still be purchased over the counter at a variety of locations including:

  • Local pharmacies
  • Some grocery stores
  • Retail stores such as Target and Walmart
  • Mail-order pharmacies
  • Planned Parenthood
  • Local family planning clinics

Typically, Plan B pills can be found near the pharmacy aisle or behind the cash register at pharmacies and other retailers, said Dr. Lincoln. Morning-after pills can be purchased by anyone at any age, and an ID is not required for purchase.

You're also not required to have a prescription, but some retailers and pharmacies may keep Plan B under lock and key in protective boxes, Dr. Lincoln said. If this is the case, you will need a pharmacist or store employee to retrieve and ring it up for you.

"Don't let that scare you from buying it, there is no shame in being prepared," said Dr. Lincoln.

If having to ask a store employee for the Plan B pill makes you uncomfortable, mail-order pharmacies can be a great alternative, said Dr. Lincoln.

Is Plan B the Best Long-Term Option?

Plan B is 75% to 89% effective when taken closer to the time of sex or up to three days after having unprotected sex, according to Planned Parenthood. After three days, Plan B becomes less effective in stopping pregnancy. Additionally, Plan B may not work at all for people over 155 pounds.

Beyond that three-day window of efficacy, the next option is to get a different morning-after pill called Ella, said Dr. Lincoln.

Ella can be taken up to five days after having unprotected sex, though, like Plan B, it is most effective when taken sooner. Ella is also effective for individuals who are between 155 to 195 pounds. However, because Ella is a stronger emergency contraceptive than Plan B, it requires a prescription.

Even with such emergency contraceptives still widely available, experts say stockpiling may not be the best or most effective response to fears about the future of reproductive rights. All of the experts interviewed recommended getting a long-term, but reversible, contraceptive.

"Remember that abortion is legal today," said Dr. Olatunde. "No one should be forced into feeling like they need to hoard medications, and the fact that people are feeling these fears and worry is a fault of our society, the politicians and, frankly, the Supreme Court for stoking the fears that people's reproductive autonomy are being stripped from them."

Dr. Lincoln suggests a three pronged approach that includes getting on birth control now, purchasing a small amount of emergency contraceptives, and obtaining a prescription for medication abortion pills that you keep on hand.

"This gives us much more access to reproductive control in spite of Roe V. Wade being overturned–if or when that happens," said Dr. Lincoln.

Dr. Lincoln added that she foresees IUDs being the next contraceptive to be targeted because of false and misleading allegations that it intentionally causes a miscarriage. However, as of right now IUDs are readily accessible, with four types of IUDs approved in the United States.

For those who are not planning on getting pregnant anytime soon, Dr. Shah also encourages connecting with a provider to talk about your long term plans and options.

"In this moment, nothing has changed," Dr. Shah said. "Right now, you have a lot of control over your bodily autonomy and I would encourage folks to take advantage of that."

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