Will The FDA Finally Drop Age Restrictions On The Morning After Pill?

Though the morning-after pill Plan B is extremely safe, it took a years of battling with the FDA to make it as widely available as it is today — and it's still subject to pointless restrictions. The drug isn't available to teens under 17 without a prescription; this means everyone has to show an ID for purchase and receive the pill (or pills) from the hand of a pharmacist. Even though it's available over-the-counter for adults anyhow. In February, Teva, the company that makes Plan B (not to be confused with any sort of sport sandal), asked the FDA to remove the age requirement and make the drug available to everyone without a prescription. For months the agency has been silent on the issue, and it only has until tomorrow to respond to the request.

If the FDA approves Teva's request, it would be a fantastic step for women's health. While use of the pill doubled after it was made available to adults without a prescription, it hasn't had as big an impact as health advocates had hoped because many women still don't know what it does or how to obtain it. Susan Wood of George Washington University, who resigned from the FDA several years ago due to its foot-dragging over Plan B, tells the Washington Post:

"If you got into a Wal-Mart and the pharmacy is closed, you're out of luck ... By having it on the shelf, more women will become aware of the availability of emergency contraception and won't have to ask someone in an emergency situation about a very private and personal situation. Hopefully, that will help women when time is of the essence."

But of course, conservatives are losing it over the prospect of having an "abortion pill" on the shelves next to condoms and lube — not that what the pill does fits most people's definition of abortion. The pill mainly prevents fertilization, but those on the personhood bandwagon are horrified by the chance that the drug could also prevent a tiny organ-less person from taking up residence in the uterus.

Though, as they're wont to do, conservatives have cooked up a few other reasons to make their opposition to removing the restriction seem more reasonable. From the Post:

They question the drug's safety and whether young girls and women would use it properly without a doctor's supervision, and they argue that wider availability could encourage sexual activity and make it easier for men to have sex with underage girls by forcing them to take the drug to prevent any pregnancies that could result.

"When anybody can buy an emergency contraceptive like this over the counter, you open the door for all sorts of abuse, and especially so when it comes to child abuse and child exploitation," said Janice Crouse of Concerned Women of America, another advocacy group.

In addition, by removing the need to see a doctor, women and girls would miss an opportunity to receive diagnoses and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, and parents would have less influence over their children's behavior, critics charge.

As usual, there's a scientific (or just common sense) answer to each of these concerns, which abortion opponents are choosing to ignore. Teva says it's proven that the drug is quite safe, and presented two new studies to the FDA that show the majority of girls between the ages of 11 and 17 were able to understand the package label well enough to use the drug on their own. Studies have shown the availability of contraception doesn't encourage kids to start having sex. Their argument about the drug facilitating the sexual abuse of girls is truly absurd since child predators can already prevent pregnancy with condoms, or the morning after pill, which they're already free to buy.

As for that last expertly worded sentence, it is true that removing the prescription requirement would make teens miss the "opportunity" to have their contraception held hostage because they can't be trusted to come in for gynecological exams on their own. If that's the price we have to pay for making it easier for all women to prevent unwanted pregnancies, we'll take it.

FDA Weighs Putting Plan B Morning-After Pill On Drugstore Shelves [Washington Post]