One afternoon, before the barstools were nabbed and happy hour banter filled the cozy, brick-walled space, a group of teenagers wandered into Trouble Bar in Louisville, Kentucky.

Oh no, I’m going to have to card them, proprietor Kaitlyn Soligan Owens thought to herself. She and co-owner Nicole Stipp maintain that they run a strictly 21-and-up bar, not a local dive that lets a few college students with fake IDs slide.

But instead of ordering cocktails, the group made a pit stop at the restroom before heading over to the bar to ask Soligan Owens for the “pregnancy stuff” that’s typically out for the community to take. They walked out of Trouble Bar with boxes of free emergency contraception, commonly known as the morning-after pill, sparing them a trip to the pharmacy, where they would have had to fork over $50 and risked being questioned by nosy employees or suffered a dreaded run-in with a gossipy classmate.

“I said, ‘I’m so proud of you for knowing you need emergency contraception, but I’m concerned that you think a bar is where you get that,’” Soligan Owens recalls. “But it was the first time I realized that apparently everyone knows we carry emergency contraception.”

“It was the first time I realized that apparently everyone knows we carry emergency contraception.”

On the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade—which, yes, as we all know by now, was overturned by an overzealous Supreme Court in June—business owners like Soligan Owens, reproductive rights groups, and even a recently launched emergency contraception brand are working together to ensure this critical form of birth control reaches those who need it the most, wherever they are. In the wake of the Dobbs decision last summer, it’s especially crucial in states like Kentucky, where there’s a near-total ban on abortion.

To be clear, emergency contraception is still 100 percent legal and has been available over-the-counter in drug stores without a prescription since 2006 and to people of all ages since 2013. (And no, it’s not the same as the abortion pill; EC works to stop ovulation before fertilization even happens). Still, barriers to access and misinformation about birth control—including the ridiculous assertion by some conservatives that emergency contraception is tantamount to abortion—have only proliferated over the last several months, which is why the plot to get a backup option in places where—to be frank—people are often just a few hours away from having sex is so damn genius.

Enter Julie, the only emergency contraception company that’s Black woman-founded and has committed to donating one free package of emergency contraception for every one bought by a customer. Julie is available online, in Walmarts, and to many more people through their initiative Julie for All, which is currently distributing close to 200,000 doses to more than 20 community partners across the country, including Just the Pill, Frontera Fund, Yellowhammer Fund, and Kentucky Health Justice Network. These organizations then connect with local businesses like Trouble Bar and the early-morning/late-night spot Old Louisville Coffee Co-op to set up discreet free EC “shops.” (Some partners in states with abortion bans have chosen to stay anonymous to better protect privacy and access.) Julie’s goal is to ultimately work with community pharmacies and hospitals, sex worker groups, on college campuses, as well as bars and restaurants.

“We want you to be able to go get EC wherever, but feel good about doing it. There’s no shame. If you are in a bar and you might have sex that night, don’t forget your EC,” says Amanda E/J Morrison, Julie’s cofounder and president. “That’s just as empowering a decision as ordering what drinks you want or choosing to go out in the first place.”

“There’s no shame. If you are in a bar and you might have sex that night, don’t forget your EC.”

Julie is especially focused on sending their products to people who have previously been left out of health care and to states in the South and Midwest that have been significantly impacted by the Dobbs decision.

“I’m a Black girl from the South. When I look at most health care ads and innovation in health care, it hasn’t really reached the South,” says Morrison, who wants to challenge “who is healthy, what is healthy, and the range of stories of what health is,” particularly in the femtech space.

Many of these same states contain so-called contraceptive deserts. According to Power to Decide, about 19 million people in the U.S. live in places that do not provide the full range of birth control methods—including all brands of pills, patches, rings, implants, and IUDs. For example, in Texas, a state that already has patchy contraceptive access, a recent ruling decided that federally funded health clinics must require parental permission for people under 18 to get a birth control prescription.

And then there’s the issue of health insurance (or lack thereof) and cost, not to mention how uncomfortable it can be for some to ask for an intimate product like emergency contraception. “It can be triggering for people to walk into a medical facility if they have medical trauma,” explains Erin Smith, executive director of Kentucky Health Justice Network.

“When I first moved to Kentucky, I could not find EC in the pharmacies,” says Stipp, who advises people to get familiar with the places where they can find it in an actual emergency. It’s no secret that people can easily grab a pack of Julie from the basket displayed by the restrooms at Trouble Bar and often needs a restock from the Kentucky Health Justice Network.

Stipp has testified about her abortion in front of the Kentucky state legislature, Soligan Owens worked on the campaign against Kentucky’s anti-abortion Amendment 2, and they fly an LGBTQ+ Pride flag at the entrance of their bar. When asked about whether the emergency contraception distribution effort, which has been part of the bar’s mission from day one, might be something that aggravates conservatives in the community, Soligan Owens replies, “The list is pretty long.”

It’s unclear exactly how the group of under-21-year-olds found out that emergency contraception was available at Trouble Bar, since it’s not publicized. Either way, the owners are proud of their reputation—why shouldn’t every bar offer a bowl of EC next to the free tampons? Accessibility to safe contraception, particularly in the face of backwards abortion restrictions, means getting free emergency contraception to people who need it the most. But it also means that everyone growing up in the post-Roe era should know that taking EC and proactively keeping it on hand is just as much a part of routine health care as getting a vaccine or an STI screening. “The entire experience is based on wanting to tell a better story for the next generation,” says Morrison.

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Mara Santilli
Mara is a freelance writer and editor specializing in culture, politics, wellness, and the intersection between them, whose print and digital work has appeared in Marie Claire, Women’s Health, Cosmopolitan, Airbnb Mag, Prevention, and more. She’s a Fordham University graduate who also has a degree in Italian Studies, so naturally she’s always daydreaming about focaccia.