Posted by: Donna
The FDA has issued new rules on over-the-counter sales of emergency contraception. It will now be on store shelves and available to anyone age 15 or over. Previously, it had been kept behind the pharmacy counter and you had to be at least 17 to purchase it.
This ruling comes as a disappointment to many reproductive justice advocates who celebrated last month’s ruling. In April, Judge Edward Korman ordered the FDA to change regulations on the morning after pill, making it available over-the-counter without age restrictions. Prior to Korman’s ruling it was available to those 17 and older without a prescription.
This looks like an attempt at a compromise in advance of the court ordered deadline to remove all age limits, which the Obama administration has announced it will appeal. Sigh. I don’t know what the admin is thinking here. They’re not impressing social conservatives, who don’t want emergency contraception to be available at all, with this move. And if the goal was to assuage the general public’s anxiety over teenage female sexuality by keeping some type of age limit, I predict it will fail on that front too. I rather doubt that breathless reports that “Emergency contraception can be sold over the counter to girls as young as fifteen!” sound any better than “Emergency contraception can be sold over the counter with no age restrictions!” to people fretting over teenage girls being sexually active. In attempting to quell the controversy, the administration is needlessly dragging out the debate and there’s no political upside, or public policy benefit, in doing that. They should just follow the judge’s order and move on. There will be no difference in the hysterical right wing reaction – screeching that Plan B is an “abortion pill” (not true) and spewing rubbish about morality – in either case. Again, right wingers don’t want emergency contraception to be available to any female of any age so it’s pointless to dither around with age limits in an attempt to placate them.
While the conservative caterwauling has been wholly predictable, the response from normal people, including some liberals, has been frustrating. I do get that it’s a visceral thing for people – it’s completely understandable. But that is precisely why there should be no age limits on buying Plan B, as counterintuitive as that could seem at first. Think about it: If the notion of a 14 year old girl getting emergency contraception at the pharmacy without her parents’ knowledge makes you squeamish imagine how she might be feeling about her situation. The average girl by the time she hits puberty has absorbed a bazillion toxic messages about her sexuality from everywhere around her. Schools can be hotbeds of slut-shaming and lots of families are not exactly supportive of their teen daughters. Do you really think the law can force a girl unknown to you to have the kind of open conversations you imagine having with your daughter when that girl may be going through god knows what in her life? I want that scared girl to be able to get the Plan B and prevent the pregnancy. This is a public health and safety issue, not a matter of morality or parental authority.
(And no, this isn’t comparable to getting a tattoo or drinking or other age-limited activities so please stop drawing those false comparisons. A tattoo or beer won’t get you pregnant.)
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