A plan for the future

Oct. 16, 2006, midnight | By Becca Sausville | 12 years, 8 months ago

Plan B offers new choices for teens

Countless studies have confirmed what every high school student already knows: The combination of teenagers and sex is inevitable. With all of these hormones, it's not difficult to make a mistake, like having unprotected sex — but emergency contraceptives like Plan B help ensure that these mistakes do not have life-altering consequences. For that, they need to be made available to girls younger than 18.

In late August, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Plan B for over-the-counter (OTC) distribution for women over 18, a positive step towards making emergency contraceptives universally available, but girls under 18 still need a prescription from a doctor in order to obtain the drug. All this despite the fact that nearly half of all adolescent girls end up having sex before the age of 19, according to data from the Guttmacher Institute.

Emergency contraceptives are effective only if used within 72 hours after unprotected sex. A teenage girl who has unprotected sex, therefore, would have to schedule an appointment with a doctor, get the prescription and then have the prescription filled — a nearly impossible task within three days. Since the drug's effectiveness decreases as time passes, all the red tape increases her chances of becoming pregnant.

Teen pregnancy has harsh consequences for young girls, leading many to seek abortions or drop out of school. Approval of the drugs would lead to far fewer pregnancies and abortions — they have the potential to prevent about 1.7 million unintended pregnancies and 800,000 abortions each year, according to Planned Parenthood.

Moreover, studies, such as the one that recently appeared in the medical journal Pediatrics , show that widespread availability of these drugs does not lead to increased sex. One study followed two groups of women, ages 15 to 21; one group had access to emergency contraception, and the other group only received education on protected sex. There was no difference in the occurrence of unprotected sex by members of either group.

With efficient education, emergency contraception could positively impact reproductive health. Since such drugs are relatively new, emergency contraception as a birth control option should be added to the sex-ed curriculum to raise awareness among teens. Of course, emergency contraceptives are not a fail-safe choice, and lessons on the topic should be coupled with a warning that condoms are the best way to practice safe sex, since the drugs do not prevent sexually transmitted diseases. The combined impact of contraceptive education and more widespread availability of the drugs would result in fewer teen pregnancies and abortions.

Plan B is the most effective form of emergency contraception. By the end of this year, it will be available at many pharmacies throughout the country. But in order to truly benefit more sexually active women, the FDA should approve Plan B for OTC distribution among girls 15 and older so that adolescent missteps do not become life-changing mistakes.

Becca Sausville. Becca is a senior who is keeping the dinosaur dream alive. She loves Silver Chips a lot, possibly more than life itself. More »

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