There has been much talk recently in “reproductive rights” circles about the over-the-counter (OTC) status of emergency contraceptives (EC’s) and hormonal contraceptives, in general. Much of the debate has centered on a December 2011 decision by Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius not to extend OTC status to Plan B One-Step, an emergency contraceptive, to girls less than 17 years of age. In defense of her decision, Secretary Sebelius stated, “the data provided as part of the actual use study and the label comprehension study are not sufficient to support making Plan B One-Step available to all girls 16 and younger, without talking to a health care professional.”

Now, one year later, “reproductive rights” advocates such as RH Reality Check and Reproductive Health Technology Project are determined to push the Obama Administration for wider access to all emergency contraceptives to all women and girls of reproductive age, according to a Washington Times story. These advocates see prescriptions as “barriers to care” and claim that emergency contraceptives have been proven safe enough “to be on the shelf — right between the condoms and the pregnancy-test kits." (See President of Reproductive Health Technology Project Kirsten Moore’s statement).

Even the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has recommended that prescription-only age restrictions for EC’s be removed “to create true over the counter access to emergency contraception for all women.” (Committee Opinion Number 542, November 2012, Committee on Health Care for Underserved Women). In their committee report, ACOG claims that making emergency contraception easily available to teens will not increase the incidence of risky sexual behavior or unintended pregnancy, and that physical examination is not needed prior to the prescription of contraceptives. However, the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AAPLOG) refutes ACOG’s findings.

AAPLOG addressed myriad problems with the decision to allow EC’s over the counter. Most significantly, AAPLOG noted in a news release that abortion rates and unintended pregnancy rates in places with OTC status for EC’s has not decreased (and, in fact, has increased in the UK), and since women will not need to be seen by a doctor before obtaining emergency contraceptives, they will bypass screening for STDs that they would normally receive at their doctor visits. AAPLOG also emphasizes the danger of easy access to EC's for male sexual predators who wish to cover up their abuse.

Likewise, the American College of Pediatricians notes in its December 3, 2012 press release that there is no association between wider access to emergency contraceptives and lower incidence of unintended pregnancy, and in fact, access to EC’s is associated with a increased incidence of STD’s. The American College of Pediatricians also says that despite arguments to the contrary, EC’s are related to increased sexual activity among minors, “which is a risk factor for depression and suicide, poor school performance, more lifetime sexual partners, and an increased divorce rate.”*

The American College of Pediatricians emphasizes the fact that the adolescent brain has not reached full maturity -- a fact to which any parent or school teacher can attest -- and, thus, teens need guidance in decision-making from parents. The College recommends the more responsible, common sense position that doctors “encourage good adolescent-parental communication, teach adolescent patients the benefits of delaying sexual activity until marriage, and teach them how to avoid premature/promiscuous consensual sex and situations resulting in coerced sex.”

Protecting young women should be our foremost concern. Advocates of increased access to EC’s for teens want to push children into making serious, adult decisions in the name of “removing barriers.” As adults, it is our job to protect, not to endanger, children. If even a few of the concerns mentioned in relation to providing Plan B and other EC’s over the counter are valid, then the proposal to provide them to all girls of reproductive age should be suspended indefinitely.

* For more information about the effect of America’s sexual culture on girls, please reference the new book, Girls Uncovered: New Research on What America’s Sexual Culture Does to Young Women, written by obstetricians Joe S. McIlhaney and Freda McKissic Bush