Anti-Plan B Sentiment is About Sex, Not Health

teensThe Obama administration’s fight over keeping some  age restrictions on the availability Plan B emergency contraception, also known as the “morning after pill,” is over. After much political posturing, this harmless, yet vitally important, medication will be available to women and girls of all ages without a prescription.

In 2011, Teva Pharmaceutical Industry filed an application with the Food and Drug Administration to allow Plan B to be accessible over the counter without age limits. The FDA ultimately rejected that application, saying the pharmaceutical company failed to prove that adolescents would use the drug correctly. In a move that surprised some of the president’s supporters, the Obama administration supported the FDA’s decision.

The Center for Reproductive Rights sued the FDA to reverse the decision and United States District Judge Edward Korman ruled that Plan B should be accessible over the counter without age limits. The Obama administration then appealed the case and lost last month. Not surprisingly, the political sphere exploded almost immediately after it was announced that the Department of Justice would not seek a second appeal against Judge Korman’s ruling.

Everyone had a lot to say, especially right wing organizations. The Washington Post quoted Penny Young Nance, president of Concerned Women for America:

“The administration ‘has abandoned common sense. I sincerely fear for the future health and wellness of women and children, as doctors, parents, and pharmacists are eliminated from this very serious conversation about sexual activity, pregnancy, fertility, and overall health.”

Notwithstanding the FDA’s original 2011 ruling, the agency found that not only is Plan B safe (it contains the same amount of hormones as a month of birth control pills) but that adolescents were completely capable of understanding how to use the medication without input from a doctor or a pharmacist. There’s some common sense for ya! So why all the uproar?

The truth is, opponents of this common sense ruling are not concerned about the “overall health” of anyone. The opponents of this ruling are concerned about young women having sex.

Which brings me to the most intelligent statement that has been uttered about this subject thus far. It wasn’t made by the president of an organization, or a politician, or a even legal adult for that matter.

“People will have sex regardless,” said Isabella Albamonte, a 17-year-old junior at [Washington, D.C.’s] Woodrow Wilson High School, adding that Plan B is ‘just a backup plan if you make a mistake.’”

People will have sex regardless. The increased availability of Plan B won’t make it easier for young women to have sex. Condoms are already sold without age restrictions or prescriptions. What Plan B will do is give young women the power to prevent unwanted pregnancies should other forms of birth control fail, not to mention the fact that it will give young men and women the opportunity to prevent an unwanted pregnancy if they make the mistake of not using protection at all (because let’s be clear, not using protection is a mistake that both parties are responsible for). And rape victims who were forced to have unprotected sex will have the opportunity to prevent getting pregnant with their rapist’s baby.

Once you get past the anti-woman political machine, the truth is crystal clear. There is a reason that access to birth control and emergency contraception is still a topic of discussion, but condoms are readily available to men of all ages. It’s because most forms of birth control and emergency contraception are specifically for women and girls, and people like Penny Young Nance (and apparently President Obama who does not support the FDA ruling!) are horrified at the thought of women and girls having sex.

Well, it’s time to face the music. Whether it gives you the heebie-jeebies or not, women and girls are having sex (just like men and boys!). So let’s give them the tools they need to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

Leigh Ann Renzulli is a recent graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park. She is a feminist with a blog, is on Twitter @lerenzulli, and lives and works in New York City.
  • Beverly Uhlmer

    Taking a month’s worth of hormones in one dose does not seem safe to me! There is no data on the long-term effects of this medication on the development of young teens. Considering that teens will have sex regardless of all the known consequences, not the least of which is a skyrocketing increase in STD’s, this move will just encourage even more reckless behavior and the attendant repercussions. I weep for my little granddaughters, who will undoubtedly be pressured by randy young men into having sex, whether they want to or not, because, “Hey, its safe now and you won’t get pregnant”. There are so many other considerations and I am appalled that the safety of our young girls is so blithely pushed aside.

  • Beverly, I assure you, it’s safe. Not pleasant, but safe. I took Plan B years ago after a condom failure and it was such a relief to be able to prevent pregnancy even after primary birth control failed. I felt gross for a day or two but that was a small inconvenience.

    And can we drop the conceit that only “randy young men” want sex and women are pawns in that game? Most women I know have healthy libidos and are just as interested in sex as men. This has been true since puberty. Sex is a human impulse and a universal one. It’s implanted by nature so perpetuate the species. We are fortunate to live n a time where we don’t have to sublimate nature to avoid unwanted pregnancy. Yes, abstinence is a valid choice but it’s not the only valid choice. Allowing safe methods of birth control for people who choose to have sex is socially responsible.

    • Beverly Uhlmer

      You took it once and declare it to be safe. Young girls might not have the sense to take it just once, but use it on an ongoing basis. Also, we don’t know its effect on the rapidly developing pubescent girls’ sexual and reproductive organs. I maintain my stance that this is NOT safe for youngsters. Encouraging sex at ever earlier ages is destroying our young people through disease and heartbreak. It is partly because adults have so overly-sexualized our society that children are experimenting with sex at younger and younger ages. I did not wait until marriage to have sex but I certainly wasn’t experimenting until I was an adult and able to care for an infant should one result from my sexual encounters.

  • Mandy

    I’m struggling with your logic. If you don’t think young girls would have the sense to take it only once, do you think they’d have the sense or ability to handle caring for a child? Or to healthily carry a baby to term even if they chose adoption? (For the record, I do think many young women are capable of both of these things and hate the stigma that teen parents face. But you can’t say they’re not mature enough to take a pill correctly, yet are mature enough to be parents.)

    And you’re worried about a medication that experts deem safe, yet not about the physical effects that young pregnancy can have? Teen mothers are more likely to have pregnancy-related high blood pressure, their babies are more likely to be premature or have low birth-weight, and because their pelvic bones haven’t fully developed, some face complications with vaginal pregnancy.

    Really, though, all that matters is that no person, young or old, should be required to stay pregnant and carry a baby when there are other options.

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