Recently, we’ve witnessed a tug-of-war between the FDA and one judge over girls’ health (note: not women- young girls). Those pushing unfettered, unsupervised access of young girls to so-called emergency contraception would have us believe it is one of the safest over the counter drugs available. Oh really?
Even President Obama, who himself heaped praise on Planned Parenthood in a speech at its annual convention, is reluctant to grant unrestricted access to Plan B, saying, “The reason [Secretary Sebelius] made this decision was that she could not be confident that a 10-year-old or an 11-year old going into a drugstore, should be able-alongside bubble gum or batteries- be able to buy a medication that potentially, if not used properly, could end up having an adverse effect.”
It is simple logic: the FDA, HHS and the President cannot be sure that young girls’ lives won’t be jeopardized. Is it too much to wish that girls can just go into a drugstore in search of bubblegum rather than a mega dose of hormones?
So, the FDA offered the judge a compromise– only girls age 15 and older will have OTC access to emergency contraception. Wow, what an improvement. Really? Is the answer really easier access to Plan B? Whatever happened to Plan A (abstinence)?
By approving OTC use for girls 15 and older, the FDA has moved Plan B from the pharmacist’s counter to the shelves. That’s right. It is now easier to get emergency contraception than most cold medicines. Parents are already missing from this debate, as parental consent is not required to access Plan B. Now we are talking about negating the ability of pharmacists and doctors to counsel girls considering Plan B.
Emergency contraception works by dispensing a large dose of synthetic hormone into a woman’s endocrine system to prevent ovulation, fertilization, and sometimes even the implantation of a newly conceived embryo.
How could a pharmacist help someone considering this potentially dangerous drug?
1. Asking if the potential user has started menstruating and is sexually active. Some girls are uninformed about basic reproduction. Plan B has not been tested on prepubescent girls.
2. Determining whether the window for Plan B is still open. Plan B is less effective after 72 hours. And if the girl has a pre-existing pregnancy (perhaps unknown to her until a pregnancy test is done), taking Plan B increases the likelihood of ectopic pregnancy.
3. Explaining how Plan B can interact with other drugs. (That’s why standard oral contraceptives require a prescription. By the way, isn’t it ironic that the lower dose of hormones is prescription-only, but the higher dose is OTC?)
4. Being a lifeline. Women and girls who are victimized through abuse or sexual exploitation may feel forced to use Plan B as regular contraception (not its purpose).
Ultimately, placing Plan B on drug store shelves threatens girls’ health, and may result in increased risky sexual behavior. Easy access to emergency contraception could lead to tragic misuse. Let’s recognize what’s really best for our girls and go back to Plan A.