One year ago today, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius decided that Plan B was too dangerous to give to teenagers under 17 without a prescription.
Was the decision politically motivated? Maybe; the White House needed to pass the Affordable Care Act and had enough pill-related drama to deal with, plus, Obama also had to win this little thing we call the presidential election.
But now that the election is over, emergency contraception advocates want to bring the focus back to Plan B and why it should be accessible to absolutely everyone.
"We are asking Secretary Sebelius to go back and take another look at the science, the medical evidence ... and see if there's a way to come to agreement to make this product more easily available to the women who need it," Kirsten Moore, president and CEO of the Reproductive Health Technologies Project, told NPR.
So far post-election, so good: the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommended that all birth control pills be sold over the counter, and the American Academy of Pediatrics gave us some real talk about how the positives of making Plan B over the counter for everyone far outweigh the negatives and is just plain common sense. (Forget why? Here's a handy video explainer!)
I'll always remember the time my 17-year-old friend called 18-year-old me in tears because she needed Plan B and her pharmacist wouldn't sell it to her older boyfriend when they both walked into the pharmacy together. (This was before 2009; since then, Plan B has been available OTC for women 17 and older.) That's illegal — by law, Plan B should be sold over the counter to anyone who is of age, regardless of their gender — but I had to go buy it for her while she paced around the parking lot.
Keeping emergency prescription behind the counter makes it harder for women of all ages to gain access, as Oklahoma law student Hilary McKinney found out when she asked her fiance to pick some up for her. The pharmacist said she couldn't sell Plan B to men, because "who knows what they could be doing with it?" What could they be doing with it besides hopefully preventing an unplanned pregnancy? Is there a new Plan B street drug I haven't heard about?
According to Wendy Wright, a vice president at the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, Plan B shouldn't be easy to get because it'll lead to higher rates of sexual abuse.
"If young girls are sexually active, they're very likely the victims of sexual abuse, and a medical exam provides the opportunity for someone to intervene to rescue a girl who is being sexually abused," Wright said. "And so it really is in the best interest of girls, having the morning-after pill only through prescription to ensure that not only are her medical needs being met, but also to ensure that she's not being abused."
In a perfect world, all sexually active young women would make decisions about their reproductive health after consulting a doctor. But not all women have access to medical care, and Plan B is most effective when taken within 24 hours of unprotected sex. That's why the AAP supports making emergency contraception easily available — not because they think teenagers should be on their own when it comes to sex, but because it just makes sense if we want to reduce unplanned teen pregnancies. Which we do. Right?
"We never invited this pharmacist into making our reproductive choices with us," McKinney told NPR. "And she shouldn't have intervened in what is a legal, safe, effective way of preventing a pregnancy, which is what we were trying to do."
"We never invited this pharmacist into making our reproductive choices with us" is such a perfect quote. (Even though legislators in states like Michigan are trying to invite them for you, no RSVP necessary!) Let's make 2013 the year of Plan B access for everyone. It's the right thing to do.