We Won’t Stay Silent: Fighting for Access to Plan B at Harris Teeter

| Reproaction

By: Caitlin Blunnie

Almost 5 years ago, the FDA updated regulations to allow Plan B One Step and other emergency contraceptives to be sold on the shelf. It’s hard to see the impact of those changes in communities in the Mid-Atlantic and South where Harris Teeter, a retailer with 245 stores in 7 states and the District of Columbia, has continued to hide access to emergency contraception.

In 2016, Reproaction called on Harris Teeter to reconsider its policy. Erin Matson, co-director and co-founder of Reproaction, identified the problem while shopping at a Harris Teeter location in Virginia. When Matson reached out for a comment, Harris Teeter claimed a variety of contradictory and nonsensical answers as to why this policy exists. Harris Teeter could have put Plan B on the shelf then, but chose to continue its unnecessary policy.

Access to emergency contraception isn’t a privilege, it’s something activists, advocates, researchers, scientists and many others fought hard for. Yet patronizing policies like the one at Harris Teeter continue to block access to emergency contraception for so many in our communities. That’s why in November, Reproaction launched a campaign to demand Harris Teeter put emergency contraceptives such as Plan B One Step on the shelf where they belong.

Just before the Thanksgiving holiday, we showed up at their Ballston store in Arlington, Virginia. Activists stood in the cold to demand Harris Teeter stop creating unnecessary obstacles to access to emergency contraception at their stores.

Harris Teeter’s response? To point fingers at other retailers, while ignoring the needs and concerns of the communities they serve.

Harris Teeter released a statement saying, “Harris Teeter prides itself on providing our shoppers with the best shopping experience. To best serve our shoppers and meet their immediate needs, we advertise the product on the shelf with clear directions as to where the shopper can obtain the item—in our pharmacy and non-pharmacy stores. This is in line with many other grocery retailer policies.”

Hiding access to Plan B One Step doesn’t meet customers’ immediate needs. It only singles out people who need access to emergency contraception, and puts it out of reach for many in our community — including teens and undocumented people who may be justifiably worried they would be forced to provide identification to purchase the product (while emergency contraception does not require identification for purchase, widespread misinformation continues about the requirements for purchasing emergency contraception and some pharmacists have been found to request it).

In December, Reproaction continued to put pressure on Harris Teeter and took action with a 10 days of Emergency Contraception Twitter storm. With allies from Maryland, D.C., Virginia and North Carolina, we highlighted just how harmful Harris Teeter’s policy is to our communities. We sent Harris Teeter holiday cards asking for Plan B access and highlighted the experiences of people who are often disenfranchised when seeking emergency contraception.

Harris Teeter’s response? Not only to continue to block access to Plan B but to block activists on Facebook, and to delete #DontHidePlanB comments off Instagram.

Harris Teeter has been getting away with their patronizing policy for too long, and enough is enough. It’s time Harris Teeter is held accountable for their actions and the harm they may be causing to the customers they say they want to serve. When emergency contraception is not easily accessible, people are unnecessarily shamed and some may not buy the time-sensitive product they need to avoid pregnancy. The solution is simple: Put the product on the shelf, as clearly authorized by the Food and Drug Administration.

Reproaction looks forward to continuing its action against Harris Teeter through 2018 until emergency contraception – not a card on the shelf – is on the shelf where it belongs.

For updates on this campaign, follow the hashtag #DontHidePlanB.

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