Emergency Contraception Frequently Asked Questions + Stigma

By: Grace Mottley

Even as we expand what long-term forms of birth control are accessible to us, emergency contraception still remains a mystery to some us of who use it.

But the mystery isn’t because using emergency contraception is hard, or because the medication is stunningly new, but because of the stigma attached to it.

Google “emergency contraception.” The first thing that comes up is a side panel that explains what emergency contraception is, accompanied by a vague description of what the medication is, including the label “Effectiveness Varies.”

The top results I got in my search weren’t much better. The websites were vague, mostly pushing the work of explaining important details of emergency contraception off to the companies that produce it.

Even after giving vague, almost non-helpful answers, the websites focus on telling you what you did wrong — the condom broke, you forgot to take your birth control for three days, you failed to control and plan everything perfectly.

No one has the answers because in American society, no one is supposed to make the kind of mistake that emergency contraception requires. Even now, there is still so much stigma around taking emergency contraception.

The shame and stigma around emergency contraception comes from a belief that women need to be perfectly in control of their bodies, and if they don’t, they have somehow failed.

This stigma comes from the “failure” to take complicated birth control regimens correctly, or use contraceptives perfectly to avoid tears or breaks. Even now, there is still an expectation that women learn how to control their bodies perfectly.

EC is not medication abortion. It is not unsafe, it is not prescription only, it’s not just for certain body types. It is part of a well-rounded birth control plan.

There is nothing wrong with a plan that doesn’t involve children. And there is nothing wrong with a situation that calls for emergency contraception to avoid conception.

Sometimes, seemingly perfect plans fail. Sometimes, we weren’t taught how to create perfect plans that meet our reproductive needs.

There is no shame around a failure to be perfect. Our bodies are our own, and when we fail to control them exactly right, we don’t fail ourselves or do something wrong, we do something human.

When we remind ourselves that we are allowed to be imperfect, we can remove the shame around emergency contraception, and allow it to become a normal part of our reproductive toolkit.

The political leader of the pro-choice movement in Maryland.