Last week, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled an FDA decision that would have allowed emergency contraception to be sold over the counter. Sebelius, who has the reputation of being “staunchly pro-choice,” apparently is not that pro-choice.
The FDA and pro-choice advocacy groups argue that Plan B One-Step is an effective and safe drug and should be among the nonprescription contraceptive options for all females of childbearing age. According to Feminists for Choice, studies show that Plan B is arguably safer in comparison to other drugs which can be misused (like aspirin and ibuprofen) and that girls as young as 11 can understand the label and instructions to use the drug safely and effectively. So why does Sebelius disagree?
In an article in the New York Times, Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, was quoted saying that the Obama administration may be trying to assuage conservative and religious groups who are angered by the new health reform law that requires health insurance programs to cover contraceptives 100%. Ornstein believes that Sebelius’ decision was motivated by the desire to create some political balance. So this seems to be yet another case of women’s bodies being used as the battlefield for political, moral, and religious forces.
Conservative groups applaud Sebelius' decision, as they believe that making Plan B available to girls and young women without a prescription would decrease the chances that doctors would be able to detect sexual exploitation and abuse and related complications. With this in mind, I can understand how we may want to require women to still have to go to the pharmacy counter for Plan B, so they can receive information on safe sex and consensual relationships from the pharmacist, regardless of their age.
However, this should be without the need for a prescription and without age restrictions. Unfortunately, the problem is that having to see a pharmacist before obtaining (emergency) contraceptives can be a huge barrier for many young women, as they may fear judgment and denial of resources. So as long as pharmacists still have the power to pass judgment and deny (young) women certain forms of birth control and information, we need to ensure that emergency contraception is available through other avenues, such as over the counter.
All of this brings me back to a larger point, similar to the one I made in a previous PolicyMic piece: Let’s focus on Plan A (prevention, prevention, oh and prevention) through comprehensive information and resources. If we are worried about premature sexual activity, unintended pregnancies, and sexual abuse, banning emergency contraceptives from over the counter drugs is not the solution. Instead, why don’t we put more emphasis on personal development, access to contraceptives, and communication between parents and their children, as well as comprehensive sex education, including correct physiological information, discussion of healthy relationships, respect for self and others, correct use of contraceptives, and shared responsibility? This will significantly decrease the need for any plan B, such as emergency contraception and abortions.
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