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Michigan pharmacies limit morning-after pills amid post-Roe panic buying

morning after bill
Abortion and contraception are still legal in Michigan, but fear about laws limiting future access are prompting people to panic buy the morning-after pill.

Pharmacies are temporarily limiting purchases of the morning-after contraception pill following a surge in demand prompted by the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade last week.

CVS, Walmart and Rite Aid on Tuesday announced purchase limits on emergency contraceptives. Some Michigan pharmacists have reported shortages, but most stores are still stocked and dispensing the pill, said Farah Jalloul, state emergency preparedness coordinator for the Michigan Pharmacists Association.

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The Friday ruling returned abortion regulation to the states, prompting a rush of women seeking emergency contraception or intrauterine devices at Northland Family Planning Centers, which operates three metro Detroit abortion clinics, founder Renee Chelian told Bridge Michigan Monday.

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The run on Plan B and other morning-after pills may not have been necessary but many people confuse the emergency contraception pill with the “abortion pill” that is used to trigger medication abortions, according to Chelian.

The morning-after pill, whose main ingredient is levonorgestrel, is taken as soon as possible or less than 72 hours after sexual activity. The pill is not intended to end a pregnancy; rather, it's designed to prevent one by keeping sperm from fertilizing an egg, said Lisa Harris, an OB-GYN at Michigan Medicine. 

The morning-after pill is available over the counter, retails for about $50 depending on the brand and there is no age requirement for purchases.

The abortion pill, also known as medication abortion, is actually two different medicines, mifepristone and misoprostol, and is intended to end an established pregnancy. The first medication blocks the hormone progesterone, preventing the pregnancy from advancing. The second medication is to be taken right after the first or within 48 hours, and causes cramping and bleeding to empty the uterus. It must be taken within 11 weeks after the first day after your last period.  

Michigan law requires the abortion pill be prescribed by a doctor either in person or online. As Planned Parenthood of Michigan notes, the state also imposes a 24-hour waiting period for an in-clinic abortion or abortion pill. The abortion pill can cost up to $750 but is often available for less. Insurance can cover some or all of the cost and there are also programs that offer financial assistance.  

“Today, abortion care does continue in the state and includes medication abortion,” Harris said.

The surge in morning-after pill sales was prompted by fear and confusion over continued access, according to Christine Moser, an economics professor at Western Michigan University. 

“If people fear that abortion is not going to be an option, then they may stock up on emergency contraceptives,” Moser said.

She and others said such panic buying raises equity concerns because it often leads to price increases, making it harder for those who need products the most to afford them.

“It’s not just in Michigan but in other states where abortion could be illegal, people are definitely going to be trying to buy the pills now,” Moser said.

People are particularly concerned in states that have banned abortion or have trigger laws banning the procedure, said Frank Ravitch, a law professor at Michigan State University.

“That is a big fear for people in Michigan,” Ravitch said. 

In Michigan, a 1931 ban on abortions that would have gone into effect after Roe has been temporarily suspended by a judge. But prosecutors in Kent and Jackson counties said through their attorney the order does not apply to them, and they would consider criminal charges against abortion providers now that Roe is gone.

Of particular concern, Ravitch said, is a concurring opinion from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who said the courts should also revisit other Supreme Court precedents based on privacy rights including Griswold v Connecticut, a 1965 ruling that struck down a state law banning birth control. 

Haley Allgeyer, a 22-year-old recent college graduate from Canton Township, was on her honeymoon in Portugal when she learned about the Supreme Court’s decision.

Allgeyer said she was not surprised, but it “still didn’t make it any easier to come to terms with.”

“Initially, I had heard that abortion access in Michigan would still be protected, so I felt a lot better, but then found out that that is only temporary, which is terrifying of what would come,” Allgeyer said.

Allgeyer said she’s most concerned about Thomas’ assertion that the court should reconsider cases protecting same-sex marriage and access to contraceptives.

“It opens the door to the possibilities of how much they could alter our country,” Allgeyer said.

Allgeyer said she is considering buying extra packages of the emergency contraceptive Plan B when she returns home because she is not able to raise a child right now.

“My husband and I would not feel financially or emotionally comfortable supporting a baby right now, and we have no idea what the future for abortion rights holds in Michigan,” Allgeyer said.

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For other women, emergency contraceptives are not a viable option. Melanie Kroll, 27, is from Holt but lives in Juneau, Alaska, with limited access to medical care and where shipping is unreliable.

Kroll said she is not a good candidate for emergency contraceptives on the market because she weighs more than 165 pounds, which decreases its effectiveness.

“For my own security, I feel like I need to get an IUD because I don’t want to risk not having abortion access if something were to go wrong,” Kroll said.

Kroll said she was fortunate enough to discuss her options for an IUD extensively with a trauma informed nurse before scheduling an appointment three weeks out.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 9:30 p.m. June 28 to correct inaccurate information about the when the abortion pill must be taken to be effective. 

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