Thursday, March 26, 2009

Ruling Eases EC Age Restrictions

A federal judge ruled the FDA must allow 17 year olds to purchase Plan B without a prescription (morning after pill) in the next 30 days, according to a New York Times article. Federal Judge Edward R. Korman ruled that the FDA succumbed to political pressure from the Bush administration when it set an 18 year old age limit for teenagers obtaining Plan B over-the-counter and further advised the FDA reconsider having any age restrictions for EC.

Emergency contraception, a concentrated dose of regular birth control pills, can prevent pregnancy if taken within 72-120 hours after unprotected sex, contraception failure, or sexual assault. It has a success rate of up to 89 percent. Despite what anti-choicers want you to believe, emergency contraception is not the same as the abortion pill (also known as RU-486, Mifeprex, or mifepristone) and does not harm an established pregnancy. Although Plan B has been available by prescription since 1999, the FDA did not approve the medication for over-the-counter status until 2006.

There is no valid medical or public health argument to restrict young women’s access to EC. According to the Guttmacher Institute, teens are more likely than adults to experience contraceptive failure, 25% of teens fail to use contraception the first time they have sex, and more than three-quarters of teen pregnancies are unplanned. There are a multitude of issues impacting a teen’s ability to access reproductive health care, including ineffective abstinence-only education, being unfamiliar with their legal right to obtain confidential services, and being too embarrassed or ashamed to discuss their sexual health with parents or other trusted adults. Removing medically unjustified age limitations is a commonsense way to reduce unintended teen pregnancy.

While anti-choice groups like Concerned Women for America and the Family Research Council are sure to attempt to undermine Korman’s ruling by spreading misinformation, falsely stating that the rate of teen sex will increase and that teens will use EC as a substitute for ordinary birth control. These statements are unfounded. Studies have shown that EC does not increase promiscuity or irresponsible sexual behaviors among teens. Will these anti-choice organizations ever learn that a woman’s right to choose her contraception is a private, medical decision and one that should be based on facts, not ideology? That’s unlikely, but at least we can applaud the fact that the political beliefs of a small sector of the population are no longer dictating health policy.

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