NWL: ‘Old Enough to Get Pregnant, Old Enough to Decide’
The meeting place was secret. To know the location, you had to send an email to the chair of the Gainesville, Fla., chapter of National Women’s Liberation (NWL) stating your purpose. The emailed response stated the meeting time, location and necessary background information.
“PLEASE DO NOT FORWARD THIS EMAIL,” the email warned receivers, “OR INFORMATION ABOUT OUR MEETING LOCATION FOR THE FLASH MOB.”
The Gainesville chapter was organizing secretly, just like other chapters around the country, for NWL’s Week of Action. Last week, NWL and Women Organized to Resist and Defend (WORD) staged protests in cities across the nation, including New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Gainesville, Fla., demanding that women of all ages have over-the-counter access to emergency contraception.
Judy Etzler was among many women and men who gathered on the first floor of a Shands Hospital parking garage in Gainesville on Friday. Though not a member of NWL, “this one was irresistible,” she said.
For as long as she can remember, Etzler has been a feminist: When she first became a part of the work force, women mainly worked as nurses or secretaries, she said. As an act of personal protest, she refused to learn how to type.
While Etzler offered a clipboard to protesters to sign in on Friday, Kendra Vincent, chair of the Gainesville chapter of NWL, gestured for attention. The crowd gathered around her in a pre-protest huddle.
“Change comes from everyday people,” she said to the 50 gathered. “And look at all these everyday people.”
The crowd applauded, bouncing echoes throughout the garage.
Vincent’s directions were clear: small groups will be assigned something to “shop for” and sent into the store. Once protestors hear the chant begin outside, they will converge on the pharmacy and join in the chant. Vincent will make a small speech. They will place their props—small medication boxes doctored to look like Plan B boxes—on the shelf. Then they will leave, chanting once again.
The fight to allow the morning-after pill, has been long, said Stephanie Seguin, NWL leader and plaintiff in a court case to make emergency contraception available without age restrictions.
Seguin said when she went to France, she saw government workers on bikes passing out condoms and emergency contraception.
In 1999., Plan B One-Step was the first emergency contraception approved for prescription use in the U.S. In 2006, it became available over-the-counter for women 18 and older. In 2009, the Federal Drug Administration lowered the age restriction to 17.
In 2011, the FDA approved Plan B One-Step for all women who can potentially become pregnant, following a review by the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. However, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, overruled the FDA’s decision, stating that the research did not contain sufficient data to show that young girls could responsibly use the drug. The age restriction remained for those 17 and older.
In early April, U.S. District Judge Edward Korman issued a court order to make Plan B available over-the-counter to women of all ages, rebuking the secretary's decision. The Obama Administration appealed Korman’s order, but lowered the age restriction to 15.
The NWL chapter leaders directed the women and men to enter a CVS in Gainesville in groups of three. Whitney Mutch, a member of NWL, walked into the store with two other women looking for nail polish.
Over the aisles, many familiar heads were beginning to appear. Over the course of a few minutes, the population of the CVS tripled. Regular customers were unfazed; the neutral, canned music maintained a normal shopping experience—until the chanting began.
“What do we want?”
The people in the store picked up the cue, shouting back, “The morning-after pill.”
“Where do we want it?”
Mutch and others collected in front of the pharmacy where Vincent gave a speech explaining their demands.
“I am here to put this morning-after pill on the shelf next to condoms,” Vincent said. “For all men and women to buy.”
Vincent and other protesters placed small boxes made to look like emergency contraception on nearby shelves. Then they promptly exited, chanting: “Old enough to get pregnant, old enough to decide.”
“It was inspiring to see so many people,” Mutch said later, as the group debriefed at the Civic Media Center. “It was fantastic, the feeling of sisterhood.”