At last, the federal government has come around and done the right thing on an important reproductive-rights issue.
This week, the Obama administration said it would drop its objections and comply with a judge’s order to allow females of any age to buy emergency contraception without a prescription.
It’s about time. The feds have stood in the way of this reasonable, research-based alternative for too long.
Making the Plan B One Step “morning-after” pill broadly available will help prevent unplanned pregnancies for teens and preteens.
Pediatricians and adolescent health experts confirm that pregnancy and motherhood for young girls can create more difficult health problems than preventing conception before it happens. The risks, consequences and long-term effects of pregnancy for 11- to 16-year-olds far outweigh the dangers of using Plan B.
No date has been set for the drug’s over-the-counter rollout, but the change is expected soon.
The controversy dates to 2011, when the FDA was set to lift the ban on sales to those 16 and under and allow unrestricted, over-the-counter sales of the drug.
But Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled her agency’s own scientists. At that time, she expressed concern that preteens might not use the drug correctly, and she ordered that the restrictions continue. President Obama supported that move.
However, in April, a federal judge ruled that all versions of the drug be made available over the counter to all ages, as major medical groups and researchers have long recommended unrestricted access. Still, the administration resisted and filed an ill-advised appeal before finally dropping the effort on Monday.
The pill can prevent pregnancy if taken soon after intercourse, preferably in the first 24 hours. Plan B contains more of the hormone progestin than regular birth-control pills do. Taking it within 72 hours of intercourse can reduce the chances of pregnancy by as much as 89 percent by preventing ovulation or fertilization of an egg.
Some who opposed making the drug available to young girls misleadingly labeled the drug an “abortion pill.” In fact, if a girl or woman is already pregnant, the pill has no effect.
Other opponents argue that the pill’s availability will encourage sexual activity among girls who are too young to handle it. But that ignores the reality that young girls are even less prepared for pregnancy and motherhood.
In addition, surveys have shown that young people are not more likely to be sexually active simply because they have unrestricted access to contraception. In fact, recent statistics indicate that increased access to birth control of all types is working to reduce pregnancies and births among teen girls.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. teen birthrate dropped steadily in recent years to a record low of 34 births per 1,000 teens ages 15 to 19 in 2012. Consistent with the national trend, Hennepin County recently reported that teen birthrates fell in 2011 for the fifth year in a row — from 32 per 1,000 in 2007 to 19.4 in 2011.
Across the country, the number of abortions also has decreased for that age group. A Guttmacher Institute analysis of that data noted that the number of teens having sex didn’t drop. Rather, they are increasing their use of birth control, including emergency contraceptives.
Though the delays caused by the Obama administration were disappointing, the right policy decision prevailed. Access to this type of safe, effective birth control is an important addition to the menu of health care options for young girls and women.