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Alabama: Did You Know?

Did you know the Alabama Health Department offers emergency contraception despite fierce criticism from opponents of choice?

In April 2004, Alabama's Department of Public Health issued rules requiring that its clinics offer emergency contraception (EC) to patients.  One of the most promising avenues for reducing unintended pregnancy and abortion, EC can greatly reduce a woman's chance of becoming pregnant when taken within a few days of unprotected sex or contraceptive failure.  EC prevents pregnancy, and has no effect if one has already begun.

Opponents of choice immediately decried the decision.  Nearly a dozen health department nurses quit their jobs in response – even though health department officials made accommodations for employees who asked to be reassigned due to personal objections to EC.  Meanwhile, anti-choice public officials pressured the state department of health to reverse its decision.

In an effort to stop EC distribution at the clinics, Congressman Robert Aderholt requested that U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson clarify federal requirements.  Thompson responded by stating that even though Title X family planning clinics are required to offer a broad range of contraceptive options, they are not obligated to offer EC.

Even with Secretary Thompson's statement, opponents of choice failed in their attempts to reverse the state's EC policy.  Dr. Thomas Miller, family planning director for the state health department, vowed to uphold the policy, stating:  "It's excellent public health policy. . . .  It's a good thing to do for the low-income women of this state."  As he stated earlier:  "It's not appropriate for me or any other group to dictate public health policy, based on personal beliefs."

Contraception; Nurse Quits Job to Avoid Distributing “Morning-after” Pills, Obesity, Fitness & Wellness Wk., July 24, 2004, at 240; Bob Johnson, U.S. Advises Alabama on Contraception, Associated Press, July 29, 2004; Anna Velasco, State to Keep Offering Morning-After Pills, Everything Ala., July 29, 2004; Charlotte Ellertson et al., Extending the Time Limit for Starting the Yuzpe Regimen of Emergency Contraception to 120 Hours, 101 Obstetrics & Gynecology 1168-71 (2003); Helena von Hertzen et al., Low Dose Mifepristone and Two Regimens of Levonorgestrel for Emergency Contraception: a WHO Multicentre Randomised Trial, 360 Lancet 1803-10 (2002); Gilda Piaggio et al., Timing of Emergency Contraception with Levonorgestrel or the Yuzpe Regimen, 353 Lancet 721 (1999).

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