More Challenges to Increasing Access to Emergency Contraception and Preventing Unplanned Pregnancies

Over the past few weeks, there have been three important developments in the ongoing saga of access to emergency contraception (EC).

Late Tuesday, April 30, 2013, the FDA announced that it had approved an amended application submitted by Teva Women’s Health, Inc. to market Plan B One-Step (active ingredient levonorgestrel) for use without a prescription by women 15 years of age and older. 

Last month, Judge Edward R. Korman of Federal District Court ruled that the government must make the most common morning-after pill, or emergency contraception, available over-the-counter (OTC) for all ages. The FDA’s approval of Teva’s current application for Plan B One-Step, which was filed before that litigation, is independent of that litigation and not intended to address the judge’s ruling. Healthy Teen Network strongly hopes that Korman’s ruling will supersede the 15-year age minimum approved by the FDA on Tuesday.

To add to the flurry of action regarding EC, Wednesday, May 1, 2013, the Obama administration initiated efforts to continue to restrict access to girls under 15 years old, when the Justice Department filed a notice to appeal Judge Korman’s ruling to make EC available OTC, without a prescription, for girls and women, of any age.

While Healthy Teen Network supports the FDA’s positive, incremental decision to increase access of EC, we are disappointed that this decision is still not consistent with medical and scientific evidence. Likewise, the Obama administration’s recent maneuver to repeal Judge Korman’s ruling to make EC widely and readily available also fails to use scientific research to ground decision-making.

Healthy Teen Network supports widespread access for EC for all who need it, without unnecessary obstructions. Given the time-sensitive nature of the effectiveness of EC, ease of access is a critical component in preventing unplanned pregnancies. The FDA announcement and the Obama administration’s appeal of Judge Korman’s ruling both obstruct access to EC.

Even with expanded access to those 15 and older (the previous minimum age was 17), the requirement to present ID to prove their age presents an enormous obstacle for many. Many young people do not have official ID that includes their dates of birth. EC is most effective when used within 72 hours of intercourse—it would be difficult to imagine a 15- or 16-year old would be able to acquire a state-issued ID in this time period. (And that’s not even considering possible parental involvement that would likely need to take place in order to obtain the ID.)

Additionally, immigrant women will continue to suffer from this arbitrary obstacle to contraception. “Immigrant women and aspiring citizens of all ages have been hit particularly hard, since they are less likely to have government-issued identification,” notes Jessica González-Rojas, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.

We’ve said it before, but it certainly bears repeating: Increased access to emergency contraception could reduce the number of unintended and/or terminated pregnancies that occur in this country each year. Therefore, emergency contraception should be widely and easily available to all whom can safely use it.

For more information on emergency contraception and its benefits:

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