As of five days ago, New York State covers emergency contraception under Medicaid. Although Plan B is not a prescription drug, the state made an exception for it because of the short timeframe in which the woman must consume it.
With Governor Spitzer’s approval, New York becomes one of the few states to ensure that poor women are able to access this time-sensitive method under Medicaid without first having to visit a physician or clinic. Still, many women in New York and elsewhere do not know what emergency contraception is, when to use it or where to obtain it—facts that point to an ongoing need for public education. Also, women younger than 18 in all states still need a prescription to obtain Plan B, making it more difficult for them to access the method quickly and use it when it is most effective.
As the Guttmacher Institute notes, reproductive rights display class differences in the US. Women who are rich enough to afford good health care and have enough education to know how to use birth control are less likely to unintentionally get pregnant than women who aren’t and don’t.
It gets worse. In 1994, the rate of unintended pregnancy in the US was the same as in 2001; in fact it declined marginally among non-Hispanics while staying the same among Hispanics, whose proportion of the population grew. But among women making less than twice the poverty line it increased, as it did among women who hadn’t graduated college.
The role of education seems to be critical. An age breakdown reveals that the rate of both intended and unintended pregnancy plummeted in the under-20 bracket, but the rate of unintended pregnancy increased in the 25-34 bracket (and the rate of intended pregnancy went up in the 30+ bracket).
At any rate, Spitzer’s approval of the new NY rule certainly shines good light on his politics.