Last year, the FDA toyed with the idea of making Plan B (and other Levonorgestrel-containing drugs) available to girls under the age of 17 without a prescription, but U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius quickly quashed the plan, stating essentially that teenagers were too dumb to read the label and take the drug as directed, and that they would still need a prescription. But according to not one, but three studies, she is wrong. Most teenagers are perfectly able to understand the drug and how to use it.
The most recent study, conducted by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, asked teenaged girls between the age of 13 and 17 who came into various clinics in five separate cities looking for the drug to read the label on the Plan B packaging. Then, they were asked whether or not the drug was right for them, based on the time of their exposure and its uses. In about 92% of cases, the girls were not only able to read and understand the label, but able to correctly determine that the drug could be used for their circumstance. And of the girls who were actually administered the single-dose drug, another 91.9% correctly used the drug.
Plan B–which is, remember, not an abortion pill, but rather a concentrated dose of oral contraceptive that stops the ovary from releasing an ovum, thus, slicing the risk of pregnancy–is available to women over the age of 17 over-the-counter at pharmacies and clinics, such as Planned Parenthood, and can be kept on-hand in case of emergency (broken condom, missed birth control pill, or, you know, rape) for months. It’s also sold under the name Next Choice and a few others. However, for teenagers 16 and younger, a prescription (read: a trip to the doctor, probably with a parent, which requires health care, which nearly 50 million Americans don’t have) is required.
Which, aside from the lack of privacy this creates for young women, may also create problems for parents–because Plan B is considered “birth control,” not basic health care. And if we’ve learned anything in the last few weeks, it’s that birth control isn’t covered by many insurers, and that loads of lawmakers want to ensure that it stays that way.
Remember the Blunt amendment that got (very, very narrowly) shut down? That would have given employers the ability to decide whether or not they cover birth control as part of their insurance…and made it so that parents of teenagers might have had to have a very uncomfortable conversation with their bosses, regarding the sexual health of their teenager. And the time that takes (or even just the time it takes to get the girl in to a doctor’s appointment to get the prescription) could mean the 72-hour efficacy window of the drug would pass. Which is ridiculous.
The most common argument against making Plan B available for young women is that they will use it in place of actual birth control–like, they’ll use it every time like notoriously bad example Cat Marnell. But at up to $70 a pop without insurance and over-the-counter, for most teens, that’s pretty cost-prohibitive, making it unlikely that they’ll just trot off to the drugstore after every instance of unsafe sex. Additionally, studied have indicated that teenagers–both male and female–are actually pretty good at using condoms during consensual sex. However, in cases of sexual abuse, molestation, or condom malfunction, it would be nice for teenagers to have a quick back-up-plan to prevent unplanned pregnancy (or abortion).
Now if only the legislature would catch up to the science…and the behavior of teenagers.
Image: Plan B