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This clinic is making emergency contraception easier to access in Mississippi


This clinic is making emergency contraception easier to access in Mississippi

Apr 24, 2023 | 8:01 am ET
By Devna Bose/Mississippi Today
Mobile clinic provided by Plan A community health care workers in Greenwood, Thursday, April 6, 2023. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

Mobile clinic provided by Plan A community health care workers in Greenwood, Thursday, April 6, 2023. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

GREENWOOD – There’s a truck parked in the gravel lot of Greenwood Community Center, muddy from a recent spring shower. 

From the outside, it’s easy to overlook. But inside, people who need it are being provided critical, hard to access health care.

Plan A operates the mobile clinic that travels the Delta, offering free family planning and reproductive health services at each of its stops. It’s become a fixture in a region of Mississippi that sees some of the state’s worst health outcomes. 

The organization does it all — their patients can get birth controlblood sugar and pressure checks, pap smears and mammograms, and even sexually transmitted diseases tests. 

And recently, they’ve added another service to their already-long list. 

Months after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned abortion rights, the organization has launched a telehealth program to make it easier for Mississippians to access emergency contraception. 

Plan A first began shipping free emergency contraception in fall 2022. After organizers learned from patients how challenging it was to access emergency contraception due to cost and availability, the organization started mailing free care packages, filled with emergency contraception, condoms, pregnancy tests and lubricant to people across Mississippi. 

The idea was to get emergency contraception to Mississippians before they need it, ensuring access immediately after unprotected sex.

But Executive Director Caroline Weinberg didn’t want to stop there.

“From the day we started shipping emergency contraception, we always knew we needed to do Ella if we were going to get people what they needed,” she said. “You can’t look at the demographics of this country and think just sending levonorgestrel is the solution, though it’s certainly a start and better than nothing.”

Ella is the emergency contraception recommended for people above 165 pounds, instead of levonorgestrel. While levonorgestrel is over the counter, Ella requires a prescription. Neither medication will harm a pregnant person or a fetus.

So, to make it easier to access, the group launched its telehealth program and started distributing Ella in January.

Plan A’s reach now extends far past the Delta, where most of its operations are housed — people call in from across the state to ask for Ella prescriptions as far away as Gulfport.

The organization currently gets 250 orders a month for both levonorgestrel and Ella. To date, they’ve shipped out 1,800 care packages. 

In April alone, Plan A has received more than 300 requests for emergency contraception. About 40% of people who request emergency contraception from the organization need Ella. 

Erin Rockwell, the organization’s evaluation and research associate, has been collecting and analyzing survey results about the state’s emergency contraception needs. 

According to Rockwell, while most people knew that there was a specific emergency contraception for people who weigh more than 165 pounds, a minority thought they’d be able to get a prescription for Ella in their community within three days, the time frame of effectiveness. Only a third of those people said they’d be able to afford a doctor’s visit for a prescription.

More than half of survey respondents said they have needed it in the past but been unable to access emergency contraception. The biggest barrier was cost, but access is a close second – many reported they couldn’t buy it anywhere. 

For the past two years, Antoinette Roby has been traveling the Delta in the clinic. She’s a driver turned community health worker, which means she’s the first person most patients will see as they enter the clinic, and the one they’ll primarily deal with. 

Roby, a daughter of the Delta herself, stressed that the clinic is judgment-free. Plan A serves clinics of all ages, background, sexual orientations and gender identities — more often than might be expected, she gets calls from cisgender men who are seeking emergency contraception for their significant others. 

Despite being on the road several days a week with the mobile clinic, Roby said the telehealth program is helping ensure no one falls through the cracks. 

“I feel like sometimes we miss people, even though we go back again,” she said. “So we got the whole telehealth program, and that was another way that we were able to reach the people in the community.”

She wishes something like Plan A would have existed when she was growing up.

“To me, it would have made a big difference,” Roby said. 

Myia Graham of Port Gibson lost her Medicaid-sponsored health insurance after turning 18, and since then, has had a difficult time consistently getting the birth control she needs to regulate her polycystic ovary syndrome. 

So when Graham, a 26-year-old graduate student at Delta State University, saw in a school-wide email last spring that the clinic would be visiting campus, she made sure to go — and after her appointment, she made all of her friends go, too.

Graham said the care Plan A provides is more important than ever.

“I hated being a Mississippi resident when we overturned Roe, because we are a state that says one thing and does another,” she said. “We say we care about women … but Mississippi is the last for everything in terms of women’s health.” 

As a Black woman, Graham said the state cares even less about people who look like her. If you’re Black, Mississippi is one of the most dangerous states in this country to give birth in.

That’s why it gives Graham some comfort to know that if she ever needs emergency contraception, she knows where to get it. 

“I wish that it was everywhere, a clinic like this,” she said.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.