After the U.S Supreme Court's June 24 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson overturned rulings in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey — rendering nearly all abortions illegal in Wisconsin — pharmacies in Madison and Dane County are stocking up on contraceptive pills and doing what they can to help make them accessible for all.
Wisconsin has had a criminal abortion ban on the books since 1849. The ban had been unenforceable since 1973 under the Supreme Court’s Roe decision.
But now, with abortion regulation under the authority of states, that ban is back in place, under which doctors who perform abortions can be found guilty of a felony punishable by up to six years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both. The law includes exceptions for an abortion that is deemed medically necessary to save the mother's life, but does not make exceptions for cases of rape, incest or the mother’s physical or mental health.
As an alternative, people who can no longer seek abortions are turning to contraceptives like the morning-after pill.
A levonorgestrel morning-after pill, such as Plan B, Take Action, My Way, Option 2, Preventeza, AfterPill, My Choice and more, can lower chances of pregnancy by 75 to 89% if a person takes it within three days after unprotected sex, according to Planned Parenthood. The pills are available without a prescription.
Plan B and other morning-after pills can be used up to five days after unprotected sex, but sooner is better — the longer someone waits to take it, the less effective it is.
Additionally, these types of morning-after pills may not work for those who weigh more than 165 pounds. Planned Parenthood recommends a copper IUD or the ella emergency contraceptive as an alternative in those instances.
Copper IUDs are non-hormonal and use copper to prevent pregnancy, rather than the hormone progestin. You need a prescription to get a copper IUD and it can be inserted by a medical professional up to five days after unprotected intercourse.
Though there are many different brands of morning-after pills, they all work the same way, are equally effective and have the same amount of medicine, no matter how much they cost.
The pills often can be found at local pharmacies.
‘Pharmacies play a big role in this’
In response to the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Fitchburg Family Pharmacy, located at 3050 Cahill Main, has stocked Plan B and other emergency contraception, it posted on Facebook, and is selling it at cost. The pharmacy wrote it is "happy to provide these to our community members even if they cannot pay."
Perhaps the most common morning-after pill, Plan B, typically retails between $40 and $50. At Fitchburg Family Pharmacy, it’s being sold for $35. Both the My Way and generic version of the pill are being sold for $8.
“Every person should have access to the tools they need to make decisions for their body. Pharmacies play a big role in this and it’s critical that everyone steps up to help,” Fitchburg Family Pharmacy wrote.
The pharmacy is accepting calls at 608-274-3784 with questions, for a curbside pickup option to better protect privacy or for anyone seeking financial assistance.
“Right now, it’s going to be talk to us and we’ll work with you to take care of it,” Thad Schumacher, the owner of the pharmacy, said of covering costs. “I’ve had individuals reach out to me on social media offering to cover the cost for people who can’t pay, which just blows my mind. But that’s the kind of community we have.”
Schumacher expressed disappointment over the U.S. Supreme Court decision and immediately explored ways to help.
“The one thing we knew we could do was provide emergency contraceptives,” Schumacher said. “We saw there was an increase in demand for those items and ordered more, and we felt very strongly that we didn’t want a barrier to accessing it.”
Fitchburg Family Pharmacy has seen a number of people come in and purchase more emergency contraceptives, and they didn’t sell a lot of it to begin with, according to Schumacher.
“We’ve always provided it and had it available, but we weren’t selling it on a regular basis,” he said. “Any increase would be a big increase for us. Just people knowing it’s available is important. A lot of people don’t know it’s an option.”
Schumacher was able to purchase a “fairly substantial amount,” like the pharmacy does routinely with any medication in high demand. He said it’s part of his job to anticipate market fluctuations and be prepared. Typically, when that happens — as in the case for Plan B — he’ll buy a six-month supply to make sure it’s available for those seeking it out.
The pharmacy is also offering ella, which is for anyone but especially those with a BMI over 30, which requires a prescription. It’s established a referral system for other options that can’t be sold over the counter.
‘It’s going fast’: Local pharmacies stock up
Local Walgreens and CVS pharmacists are not permitted to speak with the media due to company policies and, instead, publications must contact a media relations team for corporate statements.
Immediately following the Supreme Court decision, CVS Health saw a sharp increase in the sale of emergency contraceptives and implemented a temporary purchase limit to ensure equitable access, the company said in a statement.
“Sales have since returned to normal and we’ve removed purchase limits in-store and on CVS.com,” CVS Health wrote. “We continue to have ample supply of emergency contraceptives to meet customer needs.”
Walgreens said its stores “continue to have ample supply to meet customer demand,” and that to help ensure ongoing access and availability, a purchase limit of 15 products per customer for Walgreens.com purchases is in place.
A pharmacy technician at Community Pharmacy at 130 S. Fair Oaks Ave. in Madison said the pharmacy is getting Plan B as it can.
“I’ve been trying to order more of it. We have 14 on our shelves right now,” the technician, who did not want to share their name, said. “We are selling it for less than the suggested retail price.
“Definitely, people have come in to buy it. It’s going fast.”
Other pharmacies, like Neuhauser Pharmacy and Metro Market Pharmacy, haven’t yet seen supply-chain issues or too much increased demand, pharmacists at each respective storefront said.
Neuhauser owner Peg Breuer said they haven’t lowered the price of Plan B, but they did compare their costs to others in the area and are “right in the ballpark.”
“We have not ever priced it where we think it would be an issue,” Breuer said. “We checked our pricing but left it the way it was.”
At Community Pharmacy, staff are ordering contraceptives as much as possible and “will keep it in stock as long as it’s available.”
“There obviously has been quite a big uptick in it. We hadn’t sold any of it in quite some time but, since the ruling, people are asking for it more often,” the pharmacist technician said. “We will continue to provide it as long as it’s legally possible. It’s not where we’d like to be, but it’s something we want people to be able to get.”
Emergency contraceptives usually have an 18-month life-span. Community Pharmacy cautioned those stocking up to check expiration dates.
Madison’s Planned Parenthood at 2222 S. Park St. offers emergency contraception pills, pregnancy testing and rape crisis counseling referrals. Morning-after pills are available during all business hours on a walk-in basis.
Payment is expected at time of service unless other arrangements have previously been made. Emergency contraception may be covered by insurance. Those seeking financial assistance can confidentially call the Madison Planned Parenthood at 844-493-1052.
The state’s abortion ban was amended in 1985 (post-Roe) to apply penalties to physicians but not to women who seek abortions. It will be up to local law enforcement to enforce fines and penalties.
Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne said after the Dobbs ruling was released that he will not prosecute women seeking abortions or providers for performing them.
Gov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul, both Democrats, filed a lawsuit last Tuesday seeking to block enforcement of the ban. The lawsuit argues that a series of abortion restrictions passed by Republicans over the last several decades supersedes the 173-year-old law.