Emergency contraceptive purchases remain steady in Flathead Valley amid national surge
The US Supreme Court’s recent decision in Dobbs v. Jackson and its potential impact on contraceptive coverage has raised national concerns about contraceptive access. While pharmacies in Northwest Montana have yet to experience the surge in demand for emergency contraception that has overwhelmed online retailers and national chains, requests for contraception at the area’s clinics have increased. Amid uncertainty about reproductive legislation, local health care providers are hoping to reassure residents about birth control options that remain accessible and legal in Montana.
Mandie Fleming, family planning manager at Flathead Family Planning, said her team stocked up on emergency contraceptive pills like Plan B One Step as the Supreme Court neared its Dobbs v. Jackson ruling.
There are three ways clinicians can obtain emergency contraception from Flathead Family Planning, a division of the Flathead City-County Health Department. Emergency contraceptives can be purchased over the counter at the Family Planning Office, from a vending machine in the Health Department building that is also accessible outside of family planning hours, and by prescription after a visit to one of the clinic’s doctors professionals. While Family Planning requires a $20 payment for Plan B purchased over the counter, Fleming says arrangements can be made to lower the cost of the pill.
“We really want to make sure it’s accessible,” Fleming said. “We never want the inability to pay for birth control to be an impediment.”
Nationally, major drugstores and online retailers saw a significant increase in demand for emergency contraception like Plan B One Step. Online healthcare provider Wisp reported a 3,000% surge in emergency contraceptive sales after Roe v. Calf. At some retailers, demand has increased so rapidly that chains have restricted customers’ purchases. As of Tuesday afternoon, Walmart, Amazon, Rite Aid and CVS had introduced product restrictions for customers looking to purchase emergency contraception like Plan B.
While “we have an adequate supply of Plan B and Aftera at all of our CVS pharmacies and on CVS.com,” CVS Health spokesman Ethan Slavin told NBC News, purchase restrictions were put in place to ensure equitable access and regulated supply to guarantee.
Despite these national trends, pharmacies and clinics across Flathead are seeing relatively stable demand for over-the-counter emergency contraception. Kalispell’s Albertson’s Pharmacy, Logan Health Medical Arts Pharmacy and Rosauers Pharmacy told the Beacon they all normally carry a limited supply of medicines that remain in stock. The pharmacies reported that demand for emergency contraception was generally low and has not increased with the recent Supreme Court ruling. Walgreens and Walmart pharmacies in Kalispell both currently stock emergency contraceptive pills in their stores. Whitefish Pharmacy in Whitefish is seeing similarly low demand, reporting that the store has only issued one emergency contraceptive pill this calendar year. Beargrass Gift and Drugs in Columbia Falls has not stocked any emergency contraceptive pills since it opened seven months ago, and no customers have asked to buy them.
While demand for emergency contraception remains “fairly typical” at Flathead Family Planning, Fleming says calls for other forms of birth control have increased.
Ditto for All Families Health, a sexual and reproductive health clinic in Whitefish, which is currently the only abortion provider in the area.
“We’re definitely seeing a lot of birth control appointments, especially the longer-lasting types like IUDs,” Jill, a clinical assistant at All Families, told Beacon, requesting that only her first name be released. “There are so many options out there and most people find something that they are happy with.”
Like Flathead Family Planning and many of the Flathead pharmacies, All Families isn’t seeing a significant increase in demand for emergency contraception like Plan B. Even more appointment requests for long-term birth control methods like IUDs could indicate that women in Flathead are preparing for an uncertain future.
Most importantly, Montana’s reproductive health professionals hope to emphasize that contraception remains within reach.
“Right now we’re operating as normal and we don’t want there to be too much anxiety in the community,” Fleming said, noting that Flathead Family Planning is open and willing to provide a variety of health and counseling services.
“[Birth control] is still available and widely accessible, and we want people to know that,” said Jill.