A federal judge ruled last week that an “over the counter” emergency contraception, which helps prevent pregnancy if used within 72 hours after sexual intercourse, would be made available for all ages.
Plan B One Step, the pre-packaged emergency contraceptive has been available as an “over the counter morning after pill” since 2006 (although its sale has been restricted to those 17 years and older). Even though it is “an over the counter medication” you have to ask the pharmacist for the package which is behind the counter, and if you are under the age of 17, you need a prescription. Plenty of hoops to jump through.
What’s the debate all about and why is a federal judge deciding this? In late 2011, the FDA voted to make Plan B One Step universally available as an over the counter medication. Soon thereafter Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary for HHS, disagreed with the FDA’s decision and did not approve the FDA’s recommendation. The judge in his ruling concluded “the administration had not made its decisions based on scientific guidelines and that its refusal to lift restrictions on access to the pill was arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable”.
Not only did the FDA recommend unrestricted access to the “morning after pill” but the American Medical Association (AMA), The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), agreed as well. All groups felt that the science showed the safety of the pill, and that restrictions for its sale kept teenagers from using the drug in a safe and timely way to prevent pregnancy.
I discuss the use of Plan B with my adolescent patients and have written prescriptions for some who were under the age of 17 but needed emergency contraception. The risks of teenage pregnancy and all that that entails are far greater than the use of this pill.
In a “perfect” world teens under the age of 18 would not be having sex, and if they did they would all be using contraception. But as we all know, that is not what the statistics, or my own patients tell me. My practice is Texas which has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the country!
So, the federal judge gave the FDA 30 days to lift age and sale restrictions on Plan B One Step and generic versions of the pill. But in the meantime, keep talking to your teens about premarital sex, and if they are not abstaining, on how to obtain and use contraception. This discussion will never get old.