The Food and Drug Administration last week announced new rules that would make Plan B emergency contraception available on an over-the-counter basis to all teens and women age 15 and older.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration prepared to challenge a judge’s ruling that the morning-after pill be available to females of all ages, with no age restrictions whatsoever.
The White House thus finds itself caught between reproductive rights activists on its left and a largely pro-life constituency on the right, making almost nobody happy. What should the right rule be? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, debate the issue.
MATHIS: A girl or woman should have available access to over-the-counter emergency contraception when she’s old enough to get pregnant. Period. End of story.
That’s what a federal judge has ordered. And that’s what makes sense.
Not because we want to encourage, say, a 12- or 13-year-old girl to have sex. We don’t, and it’s in fact illegal. But neither do we want to see a 12- or 13-year-old girl get pregnant and forced into parenthood far too young.
The debate is broader than that, however, as Judge Edward Korman noted in his April order to make the contraceptive available to all females of childbearing age. “This case is not about the potential misuse of Plan B by 11-year-olds,” he wrote, pointing out that the number of such users taking the drug would be “miniscule.”
“Instead,” he said, “the invocation of the adverse effect of Plan B on 11-year-olds is an excuse to deprive the overwhelming majority of women of their right to obtain contraceptives without unjustified and burdensome restrictions.”
Why is that? Well, researchers have shown there is enough confusion over who is eligible for over-the-counter Plan B access — who isn’t? — that up to 20 percent of drugstores improperly deny that access to women who clearly are eligible.
In other words: The rules make it all too easy to keep Plan B out of adult hands. Which, for some people, may actually be the point: Some people believe that “emergency” contraception is immoral, no matter the age you take it. It’s their right to hold that belief; they needn’t use Plan B.
But neither should such folks be able to stand in the way of those women and teens who make the private and informed choice to spare themselves the burden of an unwanted pregnancy.
BOYCHUK: The Plan B controversy isn’t about extending “reproductive freedom” to “women of all ages” — what euphemisms! Remember, the so-called morning-after pill is already available over-the-counter for adults, and it has been for years.
No, this really is about public policy enabling girls to have sex consequence-free at a younger and younger age.
Making Plan B available over-the-counter sends a mixed message, to say the least. In most states, a 15-year-old girl who has sexual intercourse with an older boy is a victim of statutory rape.
If that same girl were caught at school with an aspirin or a Midol, she would be subject to severe punishment — schools have “zero tolerance” for drugs — including likely expulsion and possibly even jail.
Our confusing world may soon become more so, because for some would-be liberators of young American womanhood, Judge Korman’s decision doesn’t go far enough.
“Lowering the age restriction to 15 for over-the-counter access to Plan B One-Step may reduce delays for some young women,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which brought the lawsuit alleging the FDA’s age restrictions on the morning-after pill were unlawfully arbitrary.
But she complained the ruling “does nothing to address the significant barriers that far too many women of all ages will still find if they arrive at the drugstore without identification or after the pharmacy gates have been closed for the night or weekend.”
Picture for a moment a 15-year-old girl in the middle of the night, searching desperately for her Plan B. It’s insane. What’s the remedy? Vending machines? Maybe we could have couriers on call, 24-hours-a-day, to deliver the necessary drugs to “women of all ages.”
Or maybe Northup and her comrades live in a strange and sordid world.
We say our children are “the future” and our “most precious resource.”
We lie. If those things were true, we would better protect our daughters, instead of treating them as little more than animals in heat.
Reach Boychuk at firstname.lastname@example.org and Mathis at email@example.com.