Commentary Magazine


The Dangers of Unrestricted Plan B Access

The battle over universal access to the sale of emergency contraception, known as “Plan B” or the “morning after pill” has, it seems, reached a conclusion. In April the FDA announced that it was lowering the minimum age for over-the-counter sales of the drug to 15 from 17, and today the White House announced it was withdrawing its previous opposition to the ruling, and removing all opposition to age restrictions in general, making it possible for any girl, of any age, to obtain the drug. Previously President Obama said he was “bothered by the idea of 10- or 11-year-old girls buying the drugs as easily as ‘bubble gum or batteries.'” President Obama went from being uncomfortable with 15-year-olds obtaining the pill to comfortable with 11-year-olds doing so in two short months. Like other “evolutions” by the Obama White House, this was likely spurred on by pressure from his far-left base, in this case “reproductive rights” advocates who see any attempt to regulate birth control or abortion as an affront. The Obama administration has reversed its opposition to over-the-counter sales of the pill, now putting it within reach of any consumer, regardless of age. 

The message this sends to children and parents alike is troubling, to say the least. In a world where a 26-year-old is young enough to still qualify as a child on their parent’s health insurance, a child of 10 years of age can walk into any neighborhood drug store and purchase a massive dose of hormones with no oversight or supervision, not from their parents and not from medical professionals. As any parent will tell you, they are deluged with permission slips–to ride the bus, to participate in after-school activities, for the school nurse to administer Tylenol or prescription drugs. In this culture of treating young adults as toddlers, which the president and his fellow liberals do nothing but perpetuate, the FDA and White House’s decision is glaringly hypocritical. A child cannot decide to take a pain reliever for a headache while on the school campus, but they can have full access to a powerful drug that might have an impact on their development.

Previously, any teen under the age of 17 had to get a prescription to obtain the drug, which, taken up to 72 hours after intercourse, greatly lowers the likelihood of unwanted pregnancy. The reasoning behind the previous ruling was the hope that medical professionals would ensure that 14-year olds having intercourse were doing so with due care and legally (i.e. not as victims of statutory or forcible rape). According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI), a left-leaning policy organization with strong ties with Planned Parenthood:

Concerns about statutory rape are particularly acute in regard to the youngest adolescents. Although relatively small proportions of 13-14-year-olds have had intercourse, those who become sexually active at an early age are especially likely to have experienced coercive sex: Seventy-four percent of women who had intercourse before age 14 and 60% of those who had sex before age 15 report having had a forced sexual experience. As policymakers and the public have become increasingly aware that the sexual partners of minor adolescent women are often not adolescents themselves but men 3-6 years older, concern has grown that protective measures, in the form of increasing enforcement of statutory rape laws, are necessary to guard these young women from abuse and exploitation.

With the Obama administration’s decision to provide access to these young women, one outside barrier between a child and victimization has disappeared. 

How likely is it that a young girl would be able to secretly make an appointment with her family doctor in order to obtain more reliable forms of birth control? If Plan B is the only accessible form, how many young girls will start to use the hormone as their primary source of birth control? Does the FDA know how regularly taking large doses of Plan B (it’s called “emergency” contraception for a reason) in girls as young as 11 years of age will affect their biological development as they reach puberty? While the Obama administration was still against the ruling to allow unrestricted access to the drug, Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius said:

After careful consideration of the F.D.A. summary review, I have concluded that the data submitted by Teva [an Israeli pharmaceutical company that manufactures the drug] do not conclusively establish that Plan B One-Step should be made available over the counter for all girls of reproductive age.

Despite the fact that outside studies haven’t been conducted on the safety of the drug for girls as young as 10 and 11 by any agency besides the company most likely to profit from the drug going over-the-counter, the Obama White House has changed course after they themselves stated the need for independent review of the safety of these drugs for 10- and 11-year-old girls, 10 percent of whom can bear children.

The justification for this reversal seems to be the desire to prevent unwanted teen pregnancies. The argument is that if girls were required to gain their parents’ consent for using Plan B, fear of punishment or shame about becoming pregnant would prevent them from speaking about their problem. That would, we are told, make unwanted pregnancies and abortions more likely to happen. When the pill was first introduced onto the market, many claimed the frequency of abortion in the United States would plummet. Yet that has not been the case. In 2007 the Washington Times reported:

A review of 23 studies on EC “demonstrate convincingly that greater access [to the pills] increases use,” Dr. Elizabeth G. Raymond, James Trussell and Chelsea B. Polis said in their article in this month’s issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

But predictions that easier access to EC would produce “a direct, substantial impact … may have been overly optimistic,” they wrote, calling for more research “to explain this finding.”

“To date, no study has shown that increased access to this method reduces unintended pregnancy or abortion rates,” the authors concluded, adding that while some of the 23 studies taken individually have deficiencies, “the consistency of their primary findings is hard to ignore.”

The safety of sexual intercourse for minors, however, is a topic that has been widely studied. The risk of cervical cancer for women is higher for women who became sexually active before their 18th birthdays due to an increased risk of contracting the HPV virus. It is recommended that any woman, regardless of age, receive the Gardasil vaccine to prevent HPV before they become sexually active and that they receive regular exams every year after becoming sexually active. The likelihood is that 11-year-old girls are not aware of this and wouldn’t act on it even if they did. But if their parents are not aware of their sexual activity, how can these girls be protected? 

Given all of this information, which the Obama administration was aware of when it opposed unrestricted access just last week, the decision to reverse course and allow 10-year-old girls access to this medication is the wrong decision. While these ideologues claim to have the best interests of young girls in mind, you don’t have to be an opponent of abortion to understand they have instead made it more dangerous for young girls and women who need the protection of our society most. 

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