Here's What Happens When Contraceptives Aren't Available During a Natural Disaster
What do you make sure to have on hand when you're prepping for dangerous weather?
What do you make sure to have on hand when you're prepping for dangerous weather? Batteries? Water? Canned goods, candles, warm clothes? If you had to leave your home quickly, what would you bring? Your pet, irreplaceable personal items and...your birth control? It seems obvious that you'd grab it on the way out, but let's be real, everyone forgets. And of course, not everyone has access to birth control in the first place, let alone in a potentially life threatening situations.
According to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Women's Health, there are serious consequences to one's reproductive health when birth control isn't readily available during a disaster, like a hurricane. While leaving your pills behind or realizing mid -evacuation that you forgot to make that GYN appointment isn't ideal, the most vulnerable folks in a situation like Hurricane Florence, currently bearing down on North Carolina, are those who haven't had access to birth control in the first place, or who are located in areas where infrastructures providing reproductive health care are knocked out indefinitely after the storm.
It's really easy (and dismissive) to just advise people not to have sex when they don't have access to birth control, but, in addition to being ridiculous, this is overlooking the fact that during times of stress, sex is something people seek out for comfort and whether or not that's protected isn't always the first thing on one's mind. Storm shelters, like the Superdome in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, come with their own dangers, including sexual assault,which continued in the aftermath of the storm. The Journal of Women's Health research cites another study, this one a qualitative study of rape following Hurricane Katrina, which revealed that "at each phase of the disaster, conditions and opportunities existed for the victimization, particularly sexual assaults, of women." Additionally, If you're trapped in your home or evacuating with an abusive partner, you may also not be able to access your birth control if you're cut off from your means of support.
The 2015 study advises folks to consider using birth control methods other than the pill, such as IUDs or injections. There are pitfalls here as well, though, like being able to get to a clinic when you need to, due to the unpredictable nature of disasters - what if you evacuate and then can't get back in time to get the injection you need? What if your local clinic is out of the supplies you need and can't replenish because of the physical and economic impact of the storm? These scenarios are piled on top of the fact that taking your birth control correctly is hard to maintain in the best of situations, and you might find yourself switching methods during a disaster - you forgot to bring your pills with you, so you're using a condom without a backup method, and then it breaks. (This is a good argument for bringing condoms and Plan B with you if you have to evacuate, in addition to whatever birth control you use.)
The conclusion of the 2015 study includes a recommendation that emergency contraception be made available during situations that dictate an emergency response, as well as condoms. (Let's not forget about the likelihood of STI transmission.) The Pan American Health Organization also recommended in 2011 that reproductive health care be addressed as part of aid to populations during disasters such as hurricanes.
No matter what, you deserve unfettered access both contraception and abortion. Women Help Women is dedicated to helping folks get contraceptives, including condoms and the morning after pill. You can get them through the website, and chat with counselors who can answer your questions. If you are pregnant and seeking an abortion, you can also access the abortion pill (mifepristone + misoprostol), as well as misoprostol on its own, through the site, in addition to learning how the pills work, what to expect, and more, in order to self-manage your abortion safely and effectively.