The reproductive rights debate is making headlines again – this time the conflict is over the availability of Plan B and whether minors should be able to purchase this drug over the counter. Once again, women’s health is being overshadowed by political motivation and agendas in this conversation. Luckily, Judge Edward R. Korman of New York stood up for women’s health by rejecting the Obama administration’s attempts to undermine a ruling that would make Plan B readily available for all ages without a prescription.
Plan B, also referred to as ‘the morning after pill’, is a medication intended to to prevent pregnancy after having unprotected sex. When taken within three days, Plan B is 98% effective at preventing a pregnancy from taking place. The effectiveness of the drug diminishes rapidly over the course of those three days, so it is recommended that you take it within the first 24 hours for maximum protection. Since it is so imperative that this drug be taken quickly, requiring women to have a prescription is diminishing its effectiveness and putting women at risk of unplanned pregnancy. By requiring minors to see their doctor, we restricting the age group that needs this medicine the most.
There are a number of misconceptions about Plan B that are being perpetuated by the media. First of all, Plan B is a pregnancy prevention drug, not an abortion drug as many journalists have labeled it. This medication is completely ineffective at terminating an existing pregnancy and poses no risk to the health of an embryo. Another misconception is that this medication is dangerous if taken incorrectly or has severe side effects. The FDA has stated that Plan B is extraordinarily safe, in fact, the FDA approved the use of Plan B for all ages in 2011. At that time, the federal government immediately stepped in and fought to impose unnecessary age restrictions with no medical support. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius opposed the increased availability of the drug because it would endanger the health of young girls and she is not comfortable with the idea that 11-year old children could have access to contraceptives without parental consent. Sebelius and the Obama administration are appealing the April decision to make Plan B available over the counter for all ages because the ruling would cause “irreparable harm”.
It seems that even President Obama is believing some of these misconceptions. He expressed his support for Sebelius’s actions and warned of the possible adverse effects of this medication,
“I will say this, as the father of two daughters. I think it is important for us to make sure that we apply some common sense to various rules when it comes to over-the-counter medicine. And as I understand it, the reason Kathleen made this decision was she could not be confident that a 10 year old or an 11 year old going to a drugstore should be able–alongside bubble gum or batteries–be able to buy a medication that potentially, if not used properly, could end up having an adverse effect.”
I’m not entirely sure what ‘adverse effect’ President Obama is concerned about, but his concerns are not founded in reality. If he, like Sebelius, is worried about the fact that 11 year olds could potentially buy contraceptives without parental consent, they can already do that. There is currently no age restrictions on condoms or spermicides, so anyone of any age can purchase contraceptives. Therefore availability of Plan B is not increasing a young girl’s ability to have sex; it is only allowing her a back-up plan when other birth control efforts fail. Additionally, teenagers can buy many products at the pharmacy that are far more dangerous than Plan B. Cough medicine and pain relievers have more severe side effects and a risk of overdose but there are no age restrictions on these medications. In fact, the only medications that are age restricted are those that can be used to produce methamphetamine.
Judge Korman called Sebelius’s claims silly and politically motivated and I absolutely agree with him. He rejected the governments appeal by saying, this “appeal is taken solely to vindicate the improper conduct of the secretary and possibly for the purpose of further delaying greater access to emergency contraceptives for purely political reasons”. This quote from the LA Times article sums up Korman’s statement well,
“In a 17-page ruling, Korman said the actions of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius were in “bad faith” and “politically motivated,” and that government lawyers were functioning in “an alternate reality” when they requested the stay. Korman wrote that Sebelius lacked “any medical or scientific expertise” and that she undermined the nation’s drug approval process when she overruled a decision by the Food and Drug Administration to allow the drug to be sold to everyone without a prescription. “The FDA is not the problem,” Korman wrote. “The cause of the rejection of over-the-counter sale of … emergency contraceptives was the secretary of Health and Human Services.”
While I am glad that Judge Korman stood up for women’s health this week, I am concerned that the Obama administration seems to lack an understanding of the implications of their actions. This controversial nature of this debate is not a good sign for women’s reproductive health in the future.