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Six Myths about Teenagers, Sex and the OTC Plan B pill

December 15, 2011

In the United States, Over the Counter (OTC) Emergency Contraceptives (also called Plan B, also called the Morning After pill) are currently available at your local CVS or pharmacy if you are over 17 years of age. Younger people must go through a doctor and obtain a prescription for it. So what’s the big fuss?

Here are six myths that underlie faux pro-choice support for Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ (unprecedented) move recently to overrule the FDA in its decision to make the Plan B contraceptive available without any restrictions.

Myth 1. Teenagers should not control their bodies. Well-meaning adults in their lives should.

“Teenagers who are that young SHOULD go through a doctor and a parent to access such a drug. Adults should be involved. These are children, not grown women.”

Teenagers have sexual health and reproductive rights (not contingent on whether adults approve of them or not). The internationally recognized set of rights are worth reading in its entirety. But two of them are especially relevant here.

[Young people have the right to]

• receive the highest attainable standard of health in relation to sexuality, including access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services

• decide to be sexually active or not

As a society dominated by adults and their general queasiness about discussing young people and sex, it’s easy (and convenient) to forget that human rights are not labeled ‘adults only’. Reducing reproductive health care access should not be tolerated for anyone, including teenagers.

Myth 2. All teenagers have supportive and healthy adults in their lives.

Many do not.

Many young people are controlled by adults who harm, abuse or neglect them. Many teenagers do not know adults who will be sensitive, respectful and provide a safe space for their sexual health questions and anxieties. (In general, this is a message that is frequently under-prioritized when dealing with teenagers and their problems.)

Getting a prescription means (at the very least) obtaining adult permission and consent. For many teenagers, the idea of going to an adult to help terminate a possible pregnancy is more of a daunting obstacle than the $50 it would take to get OTC Plan B ever could be. Unless we can guarantee a safe and supportive environment for everyone, we should not be taking away tools that help young people live healthier lives — physically, mentally and socially.

Myth 3. The younger the teenager, the less relevant this drug is to that child.

There’s a lot of noise right now about a hypothetical 11-yr-old who will be taking the Plan B drug. What gets lost in all the hyperbolic information about probability and safety, is that the younger a child who is sexually active, the more urgent their need for easy access to reproductive health care.

The younger the age, the murkier the lines around consent, boundaries and healthy sexual relationships — making easy access to the Plan B pill all the more crucial. Her right to choose what happens to her body and her future should not be dependent on support systems (safe parents, friends, or teachers) that might or might not exist.

Myth 4. The sexual politics that govern teenage girls and boys are basically the same.

They are not.

Carrying a pack of condoms in your wallet might be accepted, and even admired for most high school, teenage boys in America. But that story plays out very differently for high school, teenage girls who carry a pack of condoms in their purses.

Unless we can guarantee that boys and girls will be treated equally — the weight and responsibility for their individual sexual health needs are fair — then taking away control and choice is always an injustice.

Myth 5. Teenagers will have more sex with increased access to OTC Emergency Contraceptives.

They will not. Here’s The Overwhelming Evidence. And that’s only one of numerous studies and articles dug up by a basic Google search.

Furthermore, studies have found [emphasis mine]:

Research shows that requiring minors to tell a parent before accessing contraception delays or prevents them from seeking reproductive health services, but does not reduce their sexual activity.

Myth 6. OTC Emergency Contraceptives are dangerous.

They are not.

From US Food and Drug Administration’s Statement of Approval:

[...] there is adequate and reasonable, well-supported, and science-based evidence that Plan B One-Step is safe and effective and should be approved for nonprescription use for all females of child-bearing potential.

You know what is actually fairly dangerous? Giving birth as a teenager.

We now live in an age where giving birth is no longer the life-threatening event for women that it used to be. But it’s useful to remember that pregnancy is still tough on the body. If a woman is not mentally, physically or socially ready to have a child (i.e. teenagers), then it is our moral obligation to make sure that she does not have to.

Support the Center for Reproductive Rights Petition.

Tell the White House: Stop playing politics with women’s health

Latest Update:

The Center for Reproductive Rights announced today it will reopen its 2005 lawsuit against the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for imposing unnecessary age restrictions on emergency contraceptives, and seek immediate relief to allow broader access to available drugs. The Center also plans to add U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius as a defendant in the reopened case [...]

[the federal court] findings in 2009 [were] that the FDA under the Bush Administration had “acted in bad faith and in response to political pressure.”

Very good.

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