Editorial: Make access to Plan B universal


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The Obama administration announced last week that it will drop its opposition to a judge’s April ruling that the Plan B One-Step or “morning-after” pill must be available over the counter and without age restrictions.

The administration originally indicated that it would fight to save a restriction on the availability of the drug to those under the age of 17 in a move that was highly controversial.

President Obama and the Justice Department are right to drop their opposition to restrictions on Plan B. The drug should be freely available to anyone who needs it.

The Plan B One-Step pill, an emergency form of birth control to be taken the morning after unprotected sex, is ultimately a safe and effective way to reduce unplanned pregnancies. Plan B is approximately 95 percent effective if taken within 24 hours of unprotected sex and 89 percent effective if taken within 72 hours.

There are a handful of relatively mild side effects associated with the Plan B pill, though clinical trials found that the drug does not cause long-term health problems in women.

In April, the FDA approved the drug for over-the-counter use by females ages 15 and up.

Allowing over-the-counter access to the Plan B pill ensures that females have a backup plan after unprotected sex or a failure of “Plan A” birth control. Requiring a doctor visit or parental consent serves only to decrease the likelihood of a young woman seeking out the treatment she needs.

Some opponents decry Plan B as a so-called abortifacient, a drug that induces an abortion. Such critics are incorrect; there are a few mechanisms by which the pill may function, but the pill generally works by preventing the fertilization or implantation of an egg.

According to the FDA, the drug “will not stop a pregnancy when a woman is already pregnant, and there is no medical evidence that the product will harm a developing fetus.”

In fact, easier access to Plan B could serve to decrease the incidence of abortion. Increased access to birth control such as Plan B has been shown to significantly reduce abortion rates. A 2012 study from Washington University found that access to free birth control reduced the abortion rate in a trial population to nearly a third of the national average over a three-year period.

Other opponents of making Plan B available over-the-counter without age restrictions argue that the availability of such a will lead to more sex and an accompanying societal degeneration. A better contraceptive safety net, this line of thinking goes, could only lead to rampant promiscuity.

Implicit in this worldview is a desire to keep sex risky as a way of discouraging young people from doing it. But risk has proven throughout history to be a woefully inefficient way to curtail sex.

Women of any age who choose to have sex should have equal access to emergency contraception.

Plan B, at the end of the day, is just that: insurance in the case that something goes wrong. To deny or limit access to such a product would be cruel.

Access to emergency contraception should be free for all.

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