The Food and Drug Administration approved the over the counter sale of the morning-after pill for use among women 18 and older Aug. 24. Those under 18 will need a prescription. The FDA had hoped this compromise would calm both sides of the debate.
Of course, it didn’t.
The morning-after pill, also known as RU-486 or ‘Plan B,’ will likely end pregnancy if taken within 72 hours after sex, but it works better if used within the first 24 hours.
The controversy centers on Plan B’s method, which causes the woman to expel the fertilized egg. RU-486 outrages anti-abortion advocates because once fertilization occurs, they claim, a human being is created and should not be destroyed.
Nor did the FDA’s ruling satisfy abortion rights supporters. They believe age restrictions will result in more unplanned pregnancies among women under 18.
Both sides make good points to the table. But Wendy Wright, president of the anti-abortion Concerned Women of America, told CNN that “if the FDA thinks that enacting an age restriction will work, or that the drug company will enforce it … then they are living in a dream world.”
From my own experience, I know that even though Wright’s opposition to RU-486 is wrong, her argument is right on the money.
When I lived in Northern Kentucky University’s dorms, I didn’t sleep as much as I’d have liked. The reasons varied, but usually involved drunken dormers running through the halls bellowing ‘The O.C.’ theme song at 3 a.m.
In high school, I knew sophomores who smoked cigarettes and juniors who guzzled whiskey.
I have seen underage individuals continually skirt age restrictions. I have seen them go over, under and around drug laws designed to stop them, and I know that RU-486 won’t be any different.
I understand that anti-abortion advocates don’t want anyone to take RU-486. But, I hate to be the one to break it to them, they’re being as naive as a schoolgirl.
Underage girls will still get the morning-after pill regardless of whether it’s as legal as Pepsi or as illegal as coke.
I worry about their safety. Women taking the pill need to be able to ask a pharmacist anything about Plan B to avoid harmful side effects or interactions.
Yet a 16 year old may be taking another medication that could gravely interact with RU-486. She may not take it at the right time. She may have risk factors that Plan B aggravates. She may think, sadly, as many adolescents do that the pill protects her from sexually transmitted diseases. (It doesn’t.)
But she can’t ask the pharmacist about any of this.
Currently, teenagers can only get RU-486 if they have a prescription. That sounds easy. Just ask her family physician to prescribe contraception and to not tell her parents.
But the prescription has its own problems. A study in the Journal of Social Issues mentions that having Plan B on hand doubles the rate of correct use compared to waiting for a prescription. Also, if sex occurs on Friday, then by Monday the pill’s effectiveness has plummeted.
I know it’s hard to support this, but allowing teenagers to buy the morning-after pill will decrease, not increase, risky behavior. Restricting adolescents’ access to Plan B will force daughters to find shady characters to purchase the pill for them.
Which is better: a licensed pharmacist who distributes a safe, clean medicine and can ensure proper use, or a shady stranger who may just give her a placebo and pocket her money?
Abstinence is the most effective birth control, but everyone makes mistakes, and it isn’t for everyone. If plan abstinence fails, shouldn’t there be a plan B?