On April 30, 2013, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) set new guidance that allowed the emergency contraceptive Plan B One Step to be sold over the counter. The decision affirmed that Plan B One Step is a safe and effective way to prevent unintended pregnancy, and that everyone regardless of age or gender should be able to purchase the product without a prescription or having to show identification. With the new guidance, customers began to see major retailers including Target and Rite Aid stock Plan B One Step directly on the shelf. Yet five years later Harris Teeter, a grocer with more than 245 stores across the Mid-Atlantic and South, continues to impose barriers on customers trying to purchase emergency contraception. As it stands, Harris Teeter has a corporate policy that requires customers who purchase emergency contraception to locate and pick up a plastic card from the shelf and then give it to a pharmacist or store manager. If the pharmacy is closed, or the employee is unable to find the product, the customer is out of luck.
Reproaction first brought the problem to Harris Teeter’s attention in 2016 and urged the retailer to follow FDA guidelines. Despite an overwhelming response from customers, Harris Teeter has gone to great lengths to ignore feedback, including blocking its customers on social media platforms. That’s why, in anticipation of the five-year anniversary of the FDA guidelines, Reproaction announced a week of action to put pressure on the retailer.
The week kicked off with two social media comment storms on April 24 and 26. Activists logged online to post #DontHidePlanB comments across Harris Teeter’s social media channels, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. After flooding the retailer with comments demanding they stock Plan B One Step on the shelf, Harris Teeter responded by blocking customers across social media platforms.
On Friday, April 27, activists mobilized outside of Harris Teeter’s Constitution Avenue location in Washington, D.C. With the help of the DC Abortion Fund and DC chapter of the National Organization for Women, activists threw a party outside of the store. Sporting party hats, a cake with a “#5” candle, and a cut-out of Harris Teeter’s mascot Henrietta the Dragon, activists demanded the retailer put Plan B One Step on the shelf, and educated people passing by about the issue.
If you know Reproaction, you could bet that we weren’t going to let Harris Teeter off the hook that easily. The next day, activists mobilized again outside of the Ballston Harris Teeter in Arlington, Virginia, to demand access to Plan B One Step on the shelf. Holly Bower, an activist, read stories to the crowd to highlight how important it is to have access to emergency contraception. Activists chanted “What do we want?” answered by “Plan B!” outside of the store, catching the attention of traffic and people walking by on the sunny afternoon.
The week wasn’t over yet. The day of anniversary, April 30, Reproaction continued to put pressure on Harris Teeter by holding a #DontHidePlanB twitter storm with allies across the East Coast. Organizations including ACLU of Virginia, the Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network (WREN), Arlington NOW, Feminist Women’s Health Center, and NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia joined Reproaction in asking Harris Teeter to put Plan B One Step on the shelf. Advocates highlighted the experiences of teens, survivors of assault, undocumented people, and LGBTQ+ and non-binary folks who often have trouble accessing emergency contraception.
Reproaction will continue to put pressure on Harris Teeter until it joins the 76 percent of chain retailers who already stock Plan B One Step on the shelf. Follow #DontHidePlanB for more updates on this campaign.