You know what
work to reduce teen pregnancy rates? Keeping it as hard as possible for teens to obtain contraception, including emergency contraception. So this decision
by Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the Health and Human Services Department, is all kinds of stupid:
Plan B One-Step is an emergency contraceptive, sometimes referred to as the “morning after pill.” Plan B One-Step is currently labeled over the counter to women ages 17 years and older, but is sold behind the pharmacy counter. It is available by prescription only to women 16 years and younger. My decision does not change any current availability of the drug for all women.
The FDA recommended that Plan B made available over the counter to all girls, not just those 17 and older. But Sebelius has decided to reject the recommendation of the FDA, and to keep the additional burden of having to first obtain a prescription in place because:
However, 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. [...]
It is common knowledge that there are significant cognitive and behavioral differences between older adolescent girls and the youngest girls of reproductive age. If the application were approved, the product would be available, without prescription, for all girls of reproductive age.
In other words, there isn't enough evidence that a 15-year-old girl has the "cognitive" and "behavioral" ability to read a label and properly take a pill. So, since it's "common knowledge" that girls under 17 are too stupid and/or immature to undertand how to read a label, it's safer for them if they have to first get to a doctor who will write them a prescription they can take to the pharmacy—all within 72 hours. Which should be easy for a kid to do, right?
We already know the drug is perfectly safe for over-the-counter use, as it's already sold over the counter. And the concern isn't that it's dangerous for girls under 17 to take the pill—just that they won't understand how to read the label. Which of course is why girls under 17 are also prohibited from obtaining, say, over-the-counter diet pills.
(Oh, no, wait. That's actually perfectly fine to sell to girls who might not know how to read a label and follow directions.)
Sebelius says that her decision doesn't change anything, and that's true. Currently, younger girls of reproductive age must obtain a prescription in order to purchase Plan B, so Sebelius' rejection of the FDA recommendation preserves the status quo. But given the epidemic of unintended pregnancies in this country, especially among teens, preserving the status quo when it comes to safe and easy access to contraception is nothing to be proud of.
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