Not-So-Sweet 16: HHS says, “You better hope plan A worked…”

Earlier this year, advocates of contraception and women’s reproductive health were applauding the Dept of Health and Human Services for their landmark decision to require that women be able to acquire birth control without a copay.  At the time, it looked like HHS was about to become a new champion of the right of women to regulate their own fertility.

It turns out, HHS is all for women regulating fertility…as long as they are at least seventeen years old.  As of yesterday, the Dept of Health and Human Services blocked the Food and Drug Administration’s move to remove the age restrictions on Plan B, which would have made the morning after pill available over the counter, without a prescription, to any woman who needed it.

Never mind that according to the scientific evidence presented to the FDA that prompted the move to eliminate age restrictions on access to Plan B.  Never mind that almost half of teens in high school report being sexually active-~-I can’t recall my source for this, but the average age at which a girl loses her virginity in the United States is around 14 or 15.  Forget all of that.  If you’re under seventeen, you need a prescription to get Plan B.

Why does this make absolutely no sense?  First of all, it impacts women who are seventeen or older as well, by causing pharmacies to keep Plan B behind the counter.  Many women are embarrassed to ask for Plan B, or pharmacists who don’t know the law may tell them they need a prescription when they really don’t.  But there’s a reason Plan B is considered emergency contraception: there isn’t a lot of time for women in this position to act to prevent pregnancy.

Which brings me to a second reason why this restriction is problematic: Plan B is more effective when taken sooner, and is generally only effective for three, maybe five, days after unprotected sex or contraceptive  failure, like a condom breaking.  This means that girls who need a prescription have a very narrow window of time in which they can acquire a prescription and get it filled-~-that means finding time to get to the doctor, and it also means, in many cases, explaining what is going on to a parent (and, of course, to the doctor).

Let’s be honest, if you’re fifteen and you just had unprotected sex or there was a problem with whatever you used, are you REALLY going to be okay with talking to your mom about this?  Probably not.

Some supporters of HHS’s decision argue that parents SHOULD be aware of what is going on, that children should be forced to talk to them about decisions that impact their health.  But the fact of the matter is, teens are unlikely to do so, and if almost half the teenage population in America is engaged in sexual activity, the last thing anyone wants is for them to be at higher risk for pregnancy.

My other favorite argument against this is “Well then they should have used protection”.  See “contraceptive failure” before you continue this line of argumentation.  Condoms break.  Girls realize they missed a pill and their birth control is not going to be effective this month.  Things go wrong sometimes.

On top of that, most states in the US have 16 as their legal age of consent (the range is 16 to 18 across the board)-~-which means that girls who are considered to be legally capable of consenting to sexual acts are still being denied access to the morning after pill.  Apparently this is irrelevant to the Dept. of Health and Human Services.

Look, if you’re engaged in sexual activity, use protection, but if you slip up, or if you experience contraceptive failure, go to a pharmacy.  The FDA has determined that emergency contraception is safe and effective for all age groups that are sexually active-~-it’s only politics that are keeping it behind the counter.  No one should be forced to have a pregnancy they aren’t ready for, and anyone who has a problem with abortion should be ALL OVER the idea of emergency contraception.

Health and Human Services…let the FDA do their jobs.



~ by Randi Saunders on December 8, 2011.

One Response to “Not-So-Sweet 16: HHS says, “You better hope plan A worked…””

  1. […] health advocates were hugely optimistic.  But the Department of Health and Human Services blocked the change, keeping the age restriction in place.  This past week, however, the FDA announced that they were […]

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