Although it took 14 years, on April 5th a federal judge ruled that the US government must make emergency contraceptives available to all women and girls, no prescription or ID check necessary. The judge concluded that “the pill causes no serious side effects, does not induce abortion, and will soon be ‘one of the safest drugs over the counter.’” Plan B pills, or emergency contraceptives, are marketed to prevent pregnancies hours after unprotected sex, broken condoms, or sexual assault. The drug prevents a fertilized egg from even implanting in the womb, which is different from having an abortion. As Art Caplan, the director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania states, the pill has shown to be safe time and time again and “the benefits of preventing unwanted pregnancies and the risks of surgical abortions are significant.” Its efficacy declines every hour after intercourse, so having to have a prescription made it useless to most women and teenagers. It was in 2006 that the FDA made the pill available for women 18 and older without a prescription, and in 2009 a judge forced the FDA to also make it available to 17 years-olds.
Why it took so long to approve Plan B for girls under 17
It was in 1999 that the FDA approved Plan B to be sold over the counter and without a prescription, but the Bush Administration refused to grant approval. Many feared that they would be fired if they approved it. You can read more about the history here. Flash forward to 2011 when The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended making prescriptions for emergency contraception available in advance to girls under the age of 17. The Obama administration also previously rejected the Food and Drug Administration’s recommendation to make Plan B available over the counter to girls younger than 17. Many considered the rejection a political move since it preceded Obama’s reelection. The agency’s findings that emergency contraception was safe was overruled. As Art Caplan, stated, “This is a case of politics triumphing over science yet again when it comes to matters of reproduction, contraception and abortion in the US.” Dr. Robert Block, President of the AAP said the decision was ‘medically inexplicable’ since it defies strong data that shows Plan B pills are safe and effective for girls and women of all ages. Nevertheless, Obama stated that the decision was because they did not feel confident that a 10 year-old or 11 year-old could use the medication properly. Many believed that this decision was motivated by not wanting teenage girls to have sex without their parents knowing. Kathleen Sebelius, who had rejected the FDA’s findings as head of the US Department of Health and Human Services, said there wasn’t enough data on the drug’s effects on adolescents since it contains higher levels of a hormone found in some types of daily use birth control pills. This unscientific position pissed off many people who felt even teenagers should be able to control their bodies.
This increase in access to emergency contraceptives is a big deal
The National Women’s Liberation beautifully stated that this decision is a huge step forward in the fight for women and girls to be able to control the course of their lives. They believe ‘that any female old enough to get pregnant is old enough to decide that she doesn’t want to be pregnant.’ Let’s look at some reasons birth control is so important for women:
• Since birth control women are able to plan their pregnancies, improving maternal and infant health.
• Birth control reduces unintended pregnancy and abortion
• Birth control increases opportunities for women by allowing them to achieve their life goals and keep control of their lives. It allows women to take better care of themselves and their families, support themselves financially, complete their education, or keep or get a job.
• Birth control has helped provide economic equality for women, with research showing that the pill is responsible for a third of women’s wage increases relative to men.
Regardless of facts or scientific evidence we still live in a country that where “curtailing the reproductive rights of teenage girls—no matter what the scientific and medical record says—is far more politically advantageous.” Unfortunately for women their sexuality is seen negatively, in some cases even immoral mainly because of religion (let’s be honest). This is why some pharmacies play moral police and do not want to give women the pill and why women and girls are sometimes purposely misinformed, whether it be about abortion or contraceptives. WTF? I understand that people feel that giving condoms or contraceptives is a way of sanctioning sex, and that some of these girls are still under adult supervision–they have parents that are responsible for them, but what is the alternative? If giving out condoms and contraceptives is going to bring down the number of STDs, pregnancy and ABORTION, and allow sexually active people (even young people) to be responsible, then why not? I understand that for some people pre-marital sex goes against the teachings of the bible, but if we can be realistic for a moment, teenagers and young adults are going to have sex—especially in college. And also, using religion as a pretext to make access to contraceptives harder for women (which is happening) directly goes against the separation of church and state. You think it’s wrong to have pre-marital sex then don’t do it, but others don’t have to follow your religion or its teachings and you have absolutely no right to impose them on anyone else. Science and public health should triumph on these issues—not ideology. The fact is that making contraceptives hard to get does not protect young girls, it just puts them in an even worse position.
As a society, we need to change the way we think about sex
Presently conservative politicians keep taking away women’s rights to abortions. If we want to prevent abortions and really bring our high rates down, the answer is not banning abortion, it is through contraceptives, condoms and sex education. Let’s teach our teenagers that sex is a big responsibility. Let’s acknowledge its risks and consequences. Republicans are the first to cut sex education and to clamp down on contraceptives—things that bring down the abortion rate—all while vehemently rallying against abortion. Not to mention that they are also the ones who cut the social safety net that is to help single mothers and children. How am I supposed to take them seriously when those actions are so illogical? Some states want women to take the pill in front of a doctor. Why? Women are treated as if they are stupid and not capable enough to make their own decisions. They are routinely stripped of their autonomy by people who think they know better.
Realize that not allowing women and girls access to contraception is to make them victims of their biology. Having a child is an immense responsibility; women shouldn’t be punished with one just because they had sex. This Puritan mentality where sex, especially pre-marital sex, is “bad” is still alive and well and we need to get rid of it. Let’s not forget that when Sandra Fluke testified for inclusion of contraception in health care coverage Rush Limbaugh called her a slut. Why do people feel it is okay to judge a female’s sexuality? Why is a woman a slut if she has sex and it’s not to procreate? Why is it anybody else’s business? It is so galling to see that while women are stripped of the ability to control their bodies and are told to keep their legs closed, there are commercials for Viagra. Men are told to go out and have sex and women are supposed to be virgins (especially if you’re Mexican). Who the hell do you think they’re having sex with? This double standard has to go too. First though, we have to change the way we think.
There absolutely has to be a shift from this negative way of viewing sex and female sexuality. Sex should not be seen as negative or dirty, or as something men enjoy more than women. Both men and women enjoy and want to have sex—and that makes neither of them sluts. As women we’re taught that some men only want one thing, so what if they do if we want it too? Society makes it seem as if sex is done to women, but it’s not—it’s something men and women do together. As long as it’s consensual and you’re being responsible what’s the problem? Females need to vote and keep their legislators in check because these legislators (who are predominantly men and will never become pregnant) are all too happy to use abortion and birth control rhetoric to help themselves politically and appeal to conservative voters. Many are prone to write legislation based on religion rather than science. Women have to put a stop to this; women’s reproductive rights should not have to be fought for every four years or two years. Access to birth control is not just a health or economic issue; it is an issue of equality as well.