The Department of Justice announced Wednesday that it will appeal the ruling by a federal judge mandating that the FDA make levonorgestrel-based emergency contraception available over the counter and without age restrictions within a 30-day period. Instead, the Obama administration’s most recent decision requires young women to show identification to purchase over-the-counter emergency contraception, and they cannot be younger than 15 years old. This essentially solidifies the reality that President Obama is more interested in capitulating to anti-choice extremists than in being a pro-choice ally.
It is far easier to stand in a room of privileged women at a Planned Parenthood conference and proudly pronounce your pro-choice allegiance, than to actually commit to pro-choice values. Barring medically safe emergency contraception from being available over-the-counter to girls under the age of 15 flies directly in the face of scientific research and instead reflects a conservative, patriarchal, and deeply paternalistic ideology surrounding women’s sexuality and women’s reproductive autonomy. There is nothing pro-choice about hindering teen girls' access to safe and responsible emergency contraception.
For a society that preaches “personal responsibility” before all else, we have always made it incredibly difficult for teen girls to responsibly prevent an unwanted pregnancy. By imposing age restrictions and requiring personal identification to obtain emergency contraception, we are simply making it that much harder. Unfortunately, this is because as a society, we are not interested in providing tools to a safe and healthy sex life for teen girls and women. We are not interested in providing the means to reproductive autonomy and control for teen girls and women. Rather, we are interested in clinging to a false, puritanical narrative about what sex is, who gets to have it, and who does not.
While it is understandably uncomfortable to think about young teens having sex, the reality is that they do. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 13% of teens report that they have had sex by age 15. What’s more, nearly one in three girls becomes pregnant by the age of 20 in the United States. If we are truly interested in both empowering teen girls to be responsible and remaining committed to reproductive autonomy, emergency contraception must be easily accessible.
Condoms are available over-the-counter for anyone of any age to buy, no questions asked. A teen boy can walk into a grocery store and purchase a box of condoms without fear of being asked for ID or refused service. This freedom does not exist for teen girls, who may buy condoms but cannot use them. Over-the-counter emergency contraception puts power and agency in the hands of teen girls and enables them the comfort and strength of knowing that they are safe from unwanted pregnancy.
Instead of providing this security, the Obama administration is capitulating to the same extremists who label him a “baby killer.” This move will do nothing to mitigate their loathing of him. Instead, all he has done is infuriate and devastate the same base who helped propel him to a second term: women. We know how important access to emergency contraception is. We know what it means to be denied the right to have control over our own reproductive lives. We know that teen girls have the same right to reproductive autonomy that adult women have. And he should know that we will not remain silent while he throws teen girls under the political bus.
Access to contraception and abortion are human rights. They enable women to have a full range of reproductive choices and give them the power of bodily autonomy. When we deny emergency contraception to those under 15 and make it that much harder for those over the age of 15 to obtain it, we are sending the message that teen girls are not worthy of that control. We are sentencing an entire generation of teen girls to unwanted pregnancy, to a sexuality saturated with shame. And we are sending the message that even a Democratic, pro-choice president cares more about gaining political points than empowering teen girls and women.
Shame on the Obama administration for the egregious moral failure.