Even though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decided this week to allow girls as young as 15 to obtain the morning-after-pill known as Plan B: One Step without a prescription, this was just the beginning of a new battle over access to the controversial drug.
The FDA is now facing a new ruling by U.S. District Judge Edward Korman of New York who has given the agency until May 6 to lift all age limits on Plan B and its generic equivalent.
The government has decided to fight this decision, claiming that Judge Korman exceeded his authority. They are requesting that his decision be suspended while the appeal is underway.
The government has been reluctant to make the drug more widely available because of a lack of testing on girls as young as 11 who could be of childbearing age.
In December 2011, Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Subelius overruled the FDA decision to allow emergency contraception to be sold over the counter to all ages. At the time, she was accused by many of trying to avoid a political battle over parental control and contraception before a presidential election; however, she countered those accusations by stating that the drug’s manufacturer had failed to study whether girls as young as 11 years old could safely use Plan B.
Experts agree that Plan B is not as safe as many want to believe.
"The effects of taking a high dose of a systematically absorbed hormone during puberty are unknown," said Anna Higgins, Director of the Center for Human Dignity at the Family Research Council.
"There have been no studies on the drug's effect on young girls. OTC sales could encourage repeat use, which is unsafe. There is no good reason to believe that young girls understand that this drug is designed to be used only once per month and is not a substitute for oral contraception."
It also distances teens from the medical supervision they need if they are being sexually abused or are suffering from sexually transmitted diseases from the medical supervision they deserve.
"If Plan B is available OTC, teens and women will avoid necessary medical screenings during which serious medical problems like STI's would be detected and treated. A 2010 study out of the UK shows that the increased availability of Plan B to teens was followed by a spike in STI rates among that age group," Higgins reports.
"Additionally, this decision undermines the right of parents to make important health decisions for their young daughters. Parents have every right to be involved in any health decisions that affect their children. No parent wants his or her daughter exposed to a potentially dangerous medication without their consent."
She concluded: "Instead of allowing unfettered access to potentially dangerous drugs to teens, parent-teen communication regarding the medical and moral issues involved with sexual behavior should be encouraged."
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