“I just quietly said no. I said, ‘I don’t dispense it.’ And if I was the only one there when someone asked for it, I would call another pharmacist, but I guess it got to be a problem,’’ Katsonis, now living in West Wendover, Nevada, told The Miami Herald. “I wasn’t and I’m not trying to impose my religious beliefs on others. I did it because of the health aspect. I still haven’t seen anything scientific that convinces me that the morning-after pills are not destroying innocent lives.’’
Last year, Katsonis was laid off from his pharmacy position at a drug store. He believes it was because of his stance.
“I see these young girls pregnant and it makes me want to weep,’’ he said. “I just don’t feel that the morning-after pill is the right way to handle things and I wonder how they are going to emotionally respond to that decision 10, 15 years down the road.’’
For the students at the time, the lesson was clear: The NOW activists, who later became organizers in Gainesville’s NWL chapter, realized the strength of well organized campaigns, and more importantly, the need for change in the way birth control was handled.
“Through these women’s experiences, we realized we didn’t want a pharmacist to have the power to say yes or no,’’ said Churchill, a NWL Gainesville chapter organizer and plaintiff. “The event with the pharmacist [in 1991], was pivotal in our getting really involved in this issue.”
Churchill became plaintiff eight.
For more than two decades the NWL Gainesville chapter — along with the national organization and New York chapter — have worked on women’s issues, the last 10 focused on making the morning-after pill available without restrictions on age or how it can be sold. That grassroots fight has included sit-ins (and arrests), sending thousands of petitions to the FDA, testifying, and eventually filing the federal lawsuit.
There have been victories along the way: In 2006, the FDA agreed to eliminate the prescription requirement for women 18 and over. Three years later, a judge ordered the FDA to drop the prescription for girls aged 17 and older.
In 2003, NWL and NOW members launched a “speakout” campaign, encouraging women, from all walks of life to share their own experiences about why the morning-after pills should be available over-the-counter. Later that year, more than a dozen women from Florida and New York testified at an FDA advisory committee meeting.
Much of the power of the movement is built upon personal experiences.
For Lori Tinney, supporting the cause was the bookend on an introspective journey. She arrived on the Gainesville campus as an 18-year-old freshman who did not believe in abortion.
“As I went through college, I spoke to a lot of women and after a while, maybe over a two-year period, I realized that a woman should be able to make their own choices based on their needs. You just can’t walk in other people’s shoes,’’ said Tinney, who used the morning-after pill when she was in her mid 30s. She is now married and mother of a three-year-old daughter. “Women have the right to make the call about a pregnancy and there certainly shouldn’t be any barriers to making that call.’’
Now, working at a nonprofit legal organization, Tinney became active with the Gainesville NWL chapter about a year after graduating in 1995. “I felt like I wasn’t really doing anything to change the world. But I said to myself, you can be mad or you can do something about it.’’
Tinney became plaintiff six.
In 2004, NWL joined the Center for Reproductive Rights as plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the FDA to remove the prescription requirement. Tummino v Hamburg was filed Jan. 21, 2005, with the names of nine women (15-year-old Anaya Kelly, of Gainesville, was added last year), including some who had their own experience with the morning-after pill. Plaintiffs include Carol Giardina and Jenny Brown, who both used to live in Gainesville, and Kelly Mangan and Frances Hunt, who both attended UF.
The women believe the suit, in the tradition of the civil-rights movement, forces a legal battle to make social change, in this case, the advancement of women’s freedoms.
“Access to birth control is the unfinished agenda of the 1960s struggle. The ability to make your own decision is a cornerstone of women’s liberation,’’ said Churchill. “We are working to build a lasting movement.”