Plan B's emergency reperception

June 5, 2009, midnight | By Nellie Beckett | 10 years, 7 months ago

Contraceptive ruling takes the right step away from regressive policies

Here's the choice: abstinence or your life is ruined. Such is the ultimatum teens hear in many different forms - a polarity that sums up society's judgmental attitude toward sex. With nationwide ideological disputes between activists and bureaucrats over issues such as the appropriateness of teaching teenagers about methods of contraception, not to mention the prevalence of abstinence-only education, it's a relief to see the passage of legislation that acknowledges teen sexuality and takes a positive step toward making teen lives safer and healthier.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently followed U.S. District Judge Edward Korman's directive to make Plan B emergency contraception available over the counter to 17-year-olds. Judge Korman should be lauded for a decision that helps reproductive freedom triumph over conservative ideology. Allowing emergency contraception over the counter to 17-year-old women is a crucial and timely step in the struggle for necessary reproductive rights.

Emergency contraception, or EC, contrary to the myth that pro-life activists frequently propagate, is not an abortion pill. It is an extra-strong dose of birth control to be taken within 72 hours of intercourse to delay ovulation and thereby prevent pregnancy. Because of its high dose of hormones, EC is not suitable as a regular method of birth control - hence the name Plan B. Until the recent court ruling, however, women under the age of 18 needed a prescription to obtain Plan B. Judge Korman wisely recognized that for something as essential, private and time-sensitive as EC, obtaining a prescription is an impractical step for teenage girls to take. Judge Korman's decision also ruled that requiring a prescription for EC is a constraint based more in a political agenda than a medical necessity. His decision clearly conveys not only the need for backup contraceptive options but that young women deserve the authority to make crucial health decisions.

Plan B's wider availability is an absolute necessity for sexually active teens. A 2004 study on contraception by the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit reproductive health organization, shows that when women have increased access to contraception, including birth control pills and EC, the abortion rate decreases. Though fewer abortions - and fewer teen pregnancies - are goals that the pro-life/abstinence movement strives for, a contradiction lies in the movement's steadfast refusal to acknowledge the need for contraception in teen lives. No matter how doggedly abstinence-only programs persist toward a wait-until-marriage utopia, teenagers will continue to have sex. The Guttmacher Institute found that 46% of all 15 to 19-year-olds in the U.S. are sexually active. With a social norm like this, it is more imperative than ever that activists, educators and legislators face facts and work toward making sex safer. Plan B is a start, but abolition of abstinence-only education and wider access to birth control would help young adults even more. EC also isn't a cheap option, priced at approximately $50 per dose. Still, $50 is a lot more affordable than abortion, the cost of which ranges from $300 to $2,000, and the immeasurable cost of childbirth and child rearing and the innumerable costs that come with this.

Despite Plan B's progress, plenty of barriers to its access remain. According to Jenny Blasdell, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, in an unstable economy, rising costs of healthcare limit women's access to affordable birth control. And even though Plan B is technically available over the counter, conscience clauses can prevent its distribution. Under federal conscience clauses, morally opposed pharmacists can refuse to stock EC or even fill prescriptions for birth control. Conscience clauses are instituted at national and state levels - Target and CVS are the most prominent among many chain pharmacies that let "morally opposed” employees refuse EC to women.

Remaining obstacles in the way of reproductive rights aside, the ruling is an encouraging step toward our society fully acknowledging young women as responsible people who are capable of making important choices about their own bodies and lives.

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