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Birth Control

Getting morning-after pill still far from simple

By Patrick Sullivan

California women in need of emergency contraception can now obtain the so-called morning-after pill without a doctor's prescription. At least that's how the process is supposed to work under a new state law that went into effect Jan. 1.

But don't count on waltzing into a local pharmacy and getting the drug anytime soon. "I just asked the pharmacist, and she says you need a prescription," explains an employee at a Longs Drugs in Santa Rosa. "I don't know, maybe you should try one of those little clinics."

That's exactly the kind of delay and uncertainty the new law is supposed to end. The morning-after pill--actually a combination of ordinary birth control pills--can prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex. However, the first dose must be taken within 72 hours, so the law aims to speed access by cutting out the need to see a doctor.

But it turns out that pharmacies can't start dispensing the drug until state officials finish developing a mandated curriculum to educate participating pharmacists, according to Steve Smith, communications manager with the legislative arm of Planned Parenthood.

"The process is expected to be completed some time in April," Smith says. "That's when people should actually be able to use the law as it's intended."

The morning-after pill has faced fierce opposition from pro-life groups, who argue that the new law could lead to dangerous misuse of the FDA-approved treatment. The law's supporters, including the California Medical Association, say it's a safe and effective way to cut down on unintended pregnancy.

California is only the second state in the nation to permit pharmacists to dispense the drug without a prescription. Morning-after pill advocates say that's a shame. "There are some statistics that say more commonly available emergency contraception could prevent more than 1 million pregnancies a year [in America] and more than 800,000 abortions," Smith says.

Last Night

About 12,000 people braved uncertain weather to attend Santa Rosa's First Night celebration on New Year's Eve. But that turnout may not be enough to ensure the survival of the alcohol-free arts and music event.

One big problem: Only 5,000 First Night attendees actually bought the $7-$10 buttons that allow access to indoor attractions, according to the Cultural Arts Council of Sonoma County, which is currently reconsidering its longtime sponsorship of the event.

First Night's initial budget required the sale of 6,000 buttons to cover costs. But Jim Johnson, the CAC's new executive director, says the organizers will still break even this year, thanks to some significant last-minute cost cutting. "It looks like the event is going to be in the black this year," Johnson says. "We're talking a few hundred dollars."

The arts council has sponsored First Night for the event's entire seven-year history in Santa Rosa, but the organization's board of directors will consider ending that sponsorship at a meeting on Jan. 28.

"It's not because it wasn't successful for us, but it's time for the arts council to look at its future," Johnson says. "[First Night] may continue under our auspices, or it may not."

Heavy Petting

Where should Bill Clinton go to find a new dog? A Marin County animal rights group is calling on the former president not to shop at a pet store to replace Buddy, the Clinton family's dog, who was recently killed in a car accident. In a press release, the Mill Valley-based In Defense of Animals urges Clinton to adopt a new dog from a shelter or an animal rescue group. "For every animal who is purchased at a pet store or breeder, another homeless animal dies in a shelter," the organization argues.

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From the January 10-16, 2002 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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