The Report: The Bitter Pill

The goal of our report is to map a social controversy related to emergency contraception, term that refers to all those contraception methods that can be used to prevent pregnancy within few days after unprotected intercourse, contraceptive failure or misuse (such as forgotten pills or torn condoms), rape or coerced sex. Our first analysis on data we got from the internet led us to concentrate on a specific type of American contraceptive pill: Plan B one Step. This was fostered by recent facts surrounding its commercialization and liberalization. As a matter of facts on June 20th of 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced it has approved the use of Plan B One-Step as a nonprescription drug for all women of child-bearing potential. This action complied with the order of the U.S. District Court in New York to make “morning after pills” available as an over-the-counter product without age or point-of-sale restrictions. The removal of these restrictions made many actors emerge and get involved in the debate with different position and points of view toward the utter liberalization decision. The decision to focus on the United States was therefore made considering the evidence and amount of data related to Plan B one Step in respect with other pills and contraceptive methods, and also considering the cultural weigh USA has toward all other western and developing countries as well.
The research question developed to orient our analysis is “when young is too young to get morning after pill?”. It was chosen considering the grown perplexity about no age restrictions, and all doubts, appeals, requests and protests concerning the righteousness of letting young people buy it autonomously. The aim of our report is not to give any answer or solution but to see how actors – no the web- responded to this issue.
The controversy analysis has been placed on the web and carried out thanks to developing Digital Methods, for the assumption that nowadays the Internet can be considered not just a source of information but a mirror of almost whole current society. The report describes phase by phase the out-and-out experiment we put in place applying the Controversy Mapping methods (developed by Bruno Latour) and it struggles to be as much scientific as possible.
Our reports aims to show every face of the controversy and how it is active on the web, where and what actors are involved, their position toward the topic, how they relate, or not, with each other and eventually give an organized and manageable portrait of the situation.

The Website: As easy as a gum?

The report was followed by a website development thanks to which we could take active part to the controversy with a specific position upon which we agreed while analyzing it. The website storytelling is based on the Obama statement of being bothered by the idea of 10 or 11 year-old girls buying a contraceptive drug “as easily as bubble gum”. We used this provocative comparison to demonstrate how Obama’s and many others’ belief is far from reality, considering all the new and unsolved barriers that makes the pill still not easy to get.
This online platform is structured into a main narrative level in which user becomes the protagonist of different scenarios. These scenarios were designed in order to challenge the user to buy a pack of chewing gums that is sold as a Plan B One-Step pack would be sold, with all the barriers that the recent liberalization created or didn’t solve: in particular they were drug store sellers and pharmacists misinformation, the high cost of this drug, moral objection or doctors and lack or low quality of sexual education both in schools due to many social and religious factors. Through scenarios the user gets to know how Plan B One-Step is still far from being actually available to anyone, and that the age issues are not fostered by a “free pill” but have always existed due to a educational/societal system that doesn’t allow all young people to learn and live an healthy sexual life.
Each scenario allows also two levels of explorative focus in which user can have proofs, with data visualizations, of what he previously found out in the main level; moreover he can explore web opinions about the controversy that we discovered thanks to our analysis and have a complete view of how much the debate is active and spread within American society.
The aim of the website as a whole is to make people aware and inform that a lot still needs to be done to solve issues related to emergency contraception and unintended pregnancies and that it is not a mere matter of removing shallow constraints to a pill.

note: we do not guarantee that the website is cross browser. we apologise if you experience some problems while browsing the website


Lucia Faggion
Chiara Gagliardi
Chiara Pirotta
Mariasilvia Poltronieri
Francesco Saponaro