April 15, 2013
In a stunning overreach of authority last week, a District Court Judge overruled the decision of U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius regarding Plan B, an “emergency” contraceptive. In 2011, Sebelius refused to extend over-the-counter (OTC) status for Plan B to teens under 17 years of age. Judge Edward Korman of the Eastern District of New York ruled that within 30 days, the FDA must make Plan B available OTC for all ages – putting the health of girls at risk and trampling the right of parents to be involved in decisions regarding their daughters’ well-being.
There have been no studies on the effects of this powerful hormonal drug on adolescents. Additionally, the label comprehension study done on Plan B did not include young girls. As a result, even if it were safe for young girls to use this drug, there is no way of knowing whether they have the capacity to administer the medication properly. In fact, in the defense of her decision, Sebelius noted that there are “significant cognitive and behavioral differences between older adolescent girls and the youngest girls of reproductive age.” These potential dangers highlight the necessity for parental guidance and professional medical input into the administration of contraceptives to young girls.
No parent wants a teenage daughter to acquire potentially dangerous medication without his or her consent. Allowing OTC access for a drug that has a close correlation to premature sexual behavior presents dangers of increased sexual activity among minors and with it, the increased likelihood of the contraction of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
The total number of STI’s in the United States has reached 110 million, according to the Centers for Disease Control. This represents the total number of STIs, not the total number of persons infected. Because a person may have several STIs simultaneously, sexual promiscuity plays a key role in their spread and quantity. Most of the new cases crop up in young people, ages 15-25. In the UK, where emergency contraception is already available OTC for teens, there has been a spike in the incidences of STI’s. To compound the problem, since teens will not need a prescription for these emergency contraceptives, they will avoid routine medical screenings during which STI’s would have been identified and treated.
Additionally, there is a very real danger that making Plan B available OTC will result in administration of the drug to young girls under coercion or without their consent. Doctors and parents are the first line of defense for girls who have experienced some kind of sexual abuse. By allowing this drug to be available without medical supervision, we run the serious risk of not identifying instances of sexual abuse among teens, especially as human trafficking becomes more widespread in our country.
In a day and age when the family unit is under attack from all angles, it is extremely irresponsible to create a new situation that will serve to drive a further wedge between parents and teens. Instead of distributing contraception like candy to teens, we should encourage honest communication within families. Parental guidance is areas of sexual behavior and health is essential to the development of responsible, healthy adults.