SC nonprofit promotes free morning-after pills following 6-week abortion ban
COLUMBIA — Emergency contraception is available for free in South Carolina through a nonprofit ramping up its mission to make birth control accessible to all women in a state where most abortions are illegal.
New Morning Foundation, which offers free and low-cost birth control, has already provided more than 800 packs of the 5,000 total it received from the morning-after pill company Julie. They’re available two ways: Women can request them through the nonprofit’s website, nodrama.org, or show up at any of its 150 partner clinics statewide, the Columbia-based nonprofit recently announced.
Like New Morning’s long-term birth control options, the free morning-after pills are available to anyone, regardless of income or insurance status. Because the pills work best at preventing pregnancy if taken within three days of sex, the program is meant to put the tablets in people’s hands before they need them.
With South Carolina’s so-called “fetal heartbeat” ban on abortions in effect, programs like New Morning are key in helping women who may not want or be ready for children from getting pregnant, said Sen. Tom Davis, a Beaufort Republican who has fought since 2021 to make it easier and cheaper for women to access birth control.
How do we empower women to avoid having to make that horrible choice in the first place?
“I’ve always thought that the abortion debate that we’ve been having was too narrow, in that it focused on, ‘At what point in time during the nine-month pregnancy do you want to terminate a woman’s right to an abortion?’” Davis said.
“We haven’t focused enough, in my opinion, on how do we empower women to avoid having to make that horrible choice in the first place?” he continued.
A law signed in May made abortions illegal in South Carolina once an ultrasound detects cardiac activity. It took effect with an Aug. 23 ruling by the state Supreme Court, which declared the law constitutional less than eight months after throwing out a similar ban.
When in a pregnancy the ban should start remains a legal question. Abortion providers filed a new challenge in September arguing what’s heard at six weeks is not a fetal heartbeat, but rather embryonic electrical activity. Republican leaders blasted it as hypocritical, since it was the law’s opponents who dubbed it the six-week ban.
While both sides await the high court’s response, abortions are presumed illegal past six weeks, before many women even know they’re pregnant.
At least part of the answer to preventing unwanted pregnancies, Davis said, is through increased access to contraception. Since 2017, New Morning has been partnering with clinics to provide birth control and reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies.
The partnership with Julie is just the most recent part of that effort. While Julie provides the pills, which usually sell for $42.44 on the company’s website, New Morning covers all shipping costs.
“Because emergency contraception is actually available over the counter — it doesn’t require a prescription — we put our brains together and thought, ‘How can we make this as easy as possible for someone to get?’” said Sarah Kelley, chief operations officer of New Morning. “We decided that mail order was the best way to make sure that it could go directly to the person who needs it, really before they even need it.”
New Morning’s other birth control options are funded in part by taxpayer money, to the tune of $4.6 million in the state budget since 2021.
The nonprofit typically spends about $3 million annually on contraceptives. Most of the state funding goes straight into providing birth control to women who need it, said CEO Bonnie Kapp. No taxpayer money bought morning-after pills. New Morning anticipates receiving more packs from Julie once its current supply runs out.
The grant New Morning received to start its initiative in 2017 ran out last year. Kapp declined to say where that money came from, due to disclosure agreements.
Rep. Bill Herbkersman, R-Bluffton, said he sponsored the $2 million in this year’s state budget as a stopgap to ensure New Morning can continue its mission. He hopes it buys New Morning time to find new private donors.
“You’ve got a certain part of the population that’s grown accustomed to having that service from New Morning, and I think if they don’t have it, we’re going to see some unintended consequences,” said Herbkersman, chairman of the House budget-writing subcommittee for state-funded health care. “Just because you don’t have (free contraception) available, I don’t think you’re going to curtail sexual activity.”
Kapp said the state needs to put more money into preventing pregnancies.
“When a bill like (the abortion ban) is passed and becomes law, there’s a certain implied responsibility to also provide contraception,” Kapp said.
She pointed to the decrease in unintended pregnancies in the state as proof of the organization’s success. Between 2017 and 2020, the number of births resulting from mistimed or unwanted pregnancies dropped 40%, according to data from the state’s public health agency based on a random sample of new moms.
Demand for New Morning’s services has increased in recent years, Kapp said.
Since its launch, the nonprofit has provided birth control services to more than 450,000 women through its partner clinics, Kapp said. It helped 76,000 women last year alone and expects to surpass that number this year. In the first six months of 2023, 46,000 women received birth control.
The nonprofit intends to continue expanding access, particularly in rural areas that lack doctors. But that will require more money, Kapp said.
“Controlling fertility allows a woman to decide the trajectory of her life,” reads the nonprofit’s website. “Everyone — regardless of bank balance or zip code — deserves this most basic right.”