U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathy Sebelius shut down the FDA’s recommendation that Plan B One-Step emergency contraception, also known as the “morning-after pill,” be made available over the counter without age restrictions yesterday.
While FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said the science proves that the pill is safe and effective for all women of child-bearing age, Sebelius said that doesn’t necessarily mean girls are mentally and emotionally responsible to handle the freedom that goes along with making the pill available without a prescription. Therefore, women ages 16 and younger must continue to obtain a prescription to access Plan B, while women 17 and up can simply ask for it at the pharmacy. She said in a statement:
“The switch from prescription to over the counter for this product requires that we have enough evidence to show that those who use this medicine can understand the label and use the product appropriately. I do not believe that Teva’s [the manufacturer of the drug] application met that standard.”
I agree with Sebelius’ point of responsibility, but I think it’s also important to look at the potential for greater good. If young women can’t access Plan B within 72 hours of having unprotected sex, will they continue to resort to more extreme measures or have to deal with unwanted pregnancies? If there’s concern about young girls understanding product labels, why not simplify the language and enforce a policy that would require pharmacists to more thoroughly explain the pill and its side effects?
The goal of Plan B is certainly not to have young girls popping pills as a first line of defense against pregnancy—or to mistake it as a barrier to disease—but with girls engaging in sexual activity at increasingly younger ages, it seems only a matter of time before age restrictions have to be lifted.
Do you agree with Sebelius’s ruling or do you think the pill should be available over the counter to all women, regardless of age?
Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.
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