The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's approval of over-the-counter status for Plan B emergency contraception (EC) for women 18 and older is an important initial step in diminishing the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions. The new policy is long overdue and greatly increases women's empowerment over their reproductive health. However, Planned Parenthood is troubled by the scientifically and sociologically baseless restrictions the FDA has placed on the contraceptive.
The new policy mandates that teenagers under the age of 18 still be required to obtain a prescription in order to purchase Plan B emergency contraceptive. This restriction likely stems from Bush administration officials and opponents of emergency contraception who claim that access to contraceptives encourages sexual activity among teens. These claims have never been validated by objective studies, and instead are based entirely on right-wing fanaticism. Easy and affordable access to proven prevention methods such as comprehensive, medically accurate sexual health education in conjunction with contraceptives is the best way to reduce the alarming rate of teen pregnancy and abortion in this country.
Denying youth access to these proven prevention methods will only increase teen pregnancies and abortion--two things Planned Parenthood of Idaho would not like to see.
Studies have found that emergency contraception lowers the risk of pregnancy when taken within 120 hours of unprotected intercourse. Experts estimate that wide access to emergency contraception could prevent up to 1.5 million unintended pregnancies--and 800,000 abortions nationwide--per year. The sooner emergency contraception is administered after unprotected intercourse, the better it works, making timely access critically important. In Idaho, 10 percent of live births are to teenagers age 15 to 19 (six out of 60 live births per day). The United States has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the western world, and anything that makes it difficult for teenagers to avoid unintended pregnancy is bad medicine and bad public policy. Emergency contraception prevents unintended pregnancy--the primary cause of abortion.
When women have access to emergency contraception, they use it responsibly, do not rely on it as a regular contraceptive method, and do not put themselves at increased risk of unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted infection. Furthermore, emergency contraception has no adverse medical affects in teens or adults, contrary to the scientifically baseless claims often made by extremists.
Planned Parenthood will continue to educate women of all ages regarding the various forms of contraceptives, including emergency contraception, and how to access them easily and affordably. Women of all ages deserve every opportunity to plan their pregnancies and avoid ever considering an abortion. Over-the-counter access to emergency contraception moves us closer to that goal.
Rebecca L. Poedy is the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Idaho.