Last month, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius blocked a recommendation from the FDA to allow teenagers under the age of 17 to purchase the emergency contraceptive pill, Plan B, without a prescription from a physician. This decision was made nearly two years after women ages 17 and older were initially granted permission to purchase Plan B over the counter. According to Sebelius, her decision was based upon lack of evidence to support the motion.
What type of evidence is Sebelius looking for, exactly? According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, the U.S. holds a significant lead over other industrialized nations with the highest teen pregnancy rate. A staggering 78% of teenage pregnancies are unplanned. Teen pregnancy has been associated with negative outcomes for teen moms and dads, children, and society at large. For instance, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy estimated that teen pregnancy cost taxpayers $10.9 billion in 2008 alone.
The issue of abortion is complex and controversial. The decision to terminate a pregnancy is arguably difficult for adults and minors alike. Abortion carries physical risks for women, including reproductive organ damage, infertility, and/or complications in future pregnancies. Research also shows that women who undergo abortions are more likely to face substance abuse and experience psychological issues than women who give birth.
However, minors face additional hurdles when faced with an unwanted pregnancy. Many states require parental notification or consent for teens to be able to terminate a pregnancy. In Virginia, for instance, teens are required to obtain parental consent from one parent in order to undergo an abortion. When checking into the hospital to give birth, however, the teens are considered “emancipated.” Thus, teens can legally sign consents for medical treatment. How is it that a pregnant minor has more legal rights when she is about to give birth to a baby than at the beginning of her pregnancy?
Obviously, granting teens access to emergency contraception or abortion without parental consent isn’t going to lower America’s high teen pregnancy rate. Still, enabling teens to make their own choices by providing them with factual information may reduce adverse emotional outcomes in women who decide to terminate or carry the pregnancy to term.
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