Planned Parenthood Rallies College Students

By Nathan Burchfiel | July 7, 2008 | 8:05 PM EDT

( - A student organization sponsored by Planned Parenthood is gaining traction in Amherst, Mass., where pro-abortion students protested a local Wal-Mart store for not filling prescriptions for the emergency contraception pill Plan B, commonly known as a "morning-after pill."

The University of Massachusetts-Amherst (UMass) group Vox: Students for Choice planned the demonstration with assistance from Planned Parenthood, which sponsors similar clubs on about 180 university and college campuses across the United States and one in Mexico.

UMass Vox President Linda Forman said since the March 24 protest her group has seen increased interest in abortion issues, saying the group has around 55 active members and a 200-student e-mail list.

Groups affiliated with "Vox: Voices for Planned Parenthood" use variations on the official name, but as many as 70, including the UMass chapter, exclude the words Planned Parenthood from their name, with the groups receiving material and logistical support from Planned Parenthood "grassroots organizers."

The word "Vox" is Latin for "voice."

According to the Planned Parenthood website, Vox helps "college students across the country organize events on campus to raise awareness about reproductive health, work with and support their local Planned Parenthood health centers, and mobilize advocates of reproductive rights."

Planned Parenthood did not return calls requesting comment, but Forman said Planned Parenthood does not give money to her group and allows it "a lot of autonomy."

While Vox receives no money from Planned Parenthood, "if we need materials from them, we can get them. I can get condoms from them and posters, information, so they basically promote us with materials, not money," Forman said.

Forman said that student leaders come up with ideas and have a Planned Parenthood grassroots organizer who offers advice, helps with publicity and trains the group members. "She never tells us what to do," she said. "We're a very independent group."

"We thought that Wal-Mart was playing politics with women's bodies," said Forman, a 20-year-old sophomore. "They sell everything else, but because they want to have a family image they didn't sell prescriptions for emergency contraception, but they're really just devaluing women's right to make their own choices."

Wal-Mart decided in 1999 to discontinue stocking Preven, the emergency contraceptive manufactured by Barr Laboratories. Preven has since been discontinued and Plan B, also a Barr drug, has taken its place. The retailer does fill prescriptions for regular birth control pills.

Forman told Cybercast News Service that she believes Wal-Mart is being manipulated by Republicans. "I think there's (sic) a lot of ties between Republicans and Wal-Mart and money and moral values and having this whole image," she said.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Karen Burk said the company's decision on morning-after pills is the result of customer preferences. "Every decision we make is based on what we believe the majority of our customers want," Burk said, "on everything from what we're putting on our shelves, whether it's food or any sort of merchandise."

Burk said the procedure for Plan B is the same procedure pharmacists would follow for any other medications Wal-Mart does not stock. She said she couldn't think of any others that the retailer does not carry.

Forman said the protest, which included about 30 students from UMass and surrounding colleges, was aimed at convincing Wal-Mart to make the drug available for women whose only local pharmacy is a Wal-Mart.

"For us at Amherst we can go to a CVS or go to a Target to get the prescription filled," said Forman. "But for some women in rural areas maybe all there is is a Wal-Mart."

Burk told Cybercast News Service that Wal-Mart pharmacists work with customers as much as possible to find appropriate prescription drugs to meet their needs. "There are other ways that certainly pharmacists might be able to give some guidance for the customers," Burk said. "There are possibly mail-order ways or things like that."

Cybercast News Service contacted the Hadley, Mass., Wal-Mart pharmacy where the protest took place and requested a prescription for Plan B. The pharmacist, who did not provide his name, confirmed that the pharmacy does not offer Plan B but suggested trying a local CVS pharmacy that does fill the prescriptions.

Forman added that she thinks the government should force private corporations like Wal-Mart to fill prescriptions for Plan B. "I think that they're there for a purpose, they're there to fill prescriptions," she said. "That's their job, that's why there's a pharmacy. They can advocate such things as condoms and Viagra, but they don't have options for women."

The Plan B pill can be used within the first three days after unprotected sexual intercourse to prevent fertilization of the egg or attachment of a fertilized egg to the uterine wall, but cannot dislodge an embryo already implanted in the uterus. It differs from the RU-486 abortion pill, which can dislodge an implanted embryo and can terminate a pregnancy as many as 64 days after fertilization.

The Food and Drug Administration recently rejected a bid to make Plan B available over-the-counter because it could not find convincing evidence that the drug was safe for adolescent women without a doctor's input.

Burk said Wal-Mart has no immediate plans to make the drug available, and she couldn't speculate on whether or not the retail giant would be open to making it available any time in the future.

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