Like adult women, should teenage girls be able to go to their local pharmacies and get Plan B One-Step, an emergency contraceptive, without a prescription? Currently, they can if they are at least 17 years old.
This has been a serious and long debate since the original version of Plan B became available in 1999, and earlier this week it seemed that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had made a clear decision: Yes, teen girls under the age of 17 should be able to get Plan B without a prescription.
Plan B One-Step was FDA-approved for use in 2009 and should not be confused with the abortion pill. Plan B One-Step contains the same ingredients as regular birth control pills, but in higher doses. If taken within 72 hours of unprotected vaginal intercourse, Plan B One-Step can effectively prevent pregnancy. Never does it abort an existent pregnancy.
In her support of allowing all teenagers access to the drug without a prescription, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg wrote in a statement last week:
"I reviewed and thoughtfully considered the data, clinical information, and analysis provided by [FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research], and I agree with the center that there is adequate and reasonable, well-supported, and science-based evidence that Plan B One-Step is safe and effective and should be approved for nonprescription use for all females of child-bearing potential."
But the Obama administration told the FDA, "Not so fast" and overruled this decision.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who oversees the FDA, said that “after careful consideration of the FDA Summary Review, I have concluded that the data, submitted by [Teva Women’s Health Inc. ] do not conclusively establish that Plan B One-Step should be made available over the counter for all girls of reproductive age. In other words, teens under 17 will still need a prescription for the drug.
So what does this all mean for young Black and Latino women?
Akiba Solomon, Colorlines' "Gender Matters" columnist, breaks down some reasons why limiting access to Plan-B One-Step is bad for young girls. She writes that they are more likely to have unplanned pregnancies and get pregnant by mistake, not to mention that more unplanned pregnancies they have lead to more abortions. She also makes an incredibly solid point by stating that less access to birth control like Plan-B One-Step "gives older sex partners more power over girls." She writes,
Listen to Salamishah Tillet, an anti-rape activist and co-founder of the Chicago-based domestic violence prevention program A Long Walk Home: “When we think of girls under 17 needing emergency contraception, we imagine two kids making out at home. But in my experience, a lot of unintended pregnancies occur in girls who are having sex with older men,” she says. “Barring easier access to EC doesn’t address the exploitative nature of many of these relationships. Of course Plan B won’t prevent sexual exploitation, but it does enable girls have to have more power over their reproduction.”
Hmmm, it makes you think.
To learn more about Plan B One-Step, go here.
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