COLUMN: A defeat of reproductive rights

By Eric Naing

The Food and Drug Administration recently approved the emergency contraceptive Plan B to be available without a prescription. Women all over the United States should be celebrating this important victory in the battle for control over their own bodies, right? Wrong. While it is a step in the right direction, this event will do little to reduce the abortion rate and still leaves out many of the women that actually would need Plan B.

Plan B is an emergency contraceptive that stops fertilization and possibly prevents an early stage embryo from being implanted in the uterus. It does NOT cause “an extremely early abortion” as some may believe. It is not a form of birth control and will not prevent the spread of STDs. It needs to be taken within five days of having unprotected sex to work.

It is significant that the FDA is allowing over-the-counter access to the morning after pill, but as they say, the devil is in the details. According to the FDA, sales of Plan B will be restricted to women over the age of 18. President Bush says that he appreciates “the critical distinction between minors and adults and the risks a drug like this could pose.”

Barr Pharmaceuticals, the creator of Plan B, originally planned to sell the pill without an age limit but the FDA suggested a 16 and older age limit and then later upped the limit to 18. Setting the age limit to 18 is completely arbitrary, as is 16 for that matter. In the United Kingdom, girls as young as 16 can get Plan B. In France, the emergency contraceptive NorLevo is available to teenagers under 18. There is no medical proof that selling Plan B over-the-counter to an 18 year old would be any more dangerous than selling it to a 17, 16 or even 15 year old.

Teenagers under the age of 18 are far more likely to practice unsafe sex, be raped and have less access to contraceptive methods. Hence, teenagers under 18 represent a very significant portion of all the women who get abortions. Hence, teenagers under 18 are the ones who would most benefit from over-the-counter sales of Plan B.

According to FDA Commissioner Andrew C. Von Eschenbach, “Leveraging well-established state and private-sector infrastructures will allow for comprehensive and effective enforcement of the age-based restrictions.” As “ema” of the blog “The Well-Timed Period” notes, the FDA set the age limit to 18 “based solely on the state of the current enforcement infrastructure, and ease of enforcement.” Think about that again, the Food and Drug Administration restricted access to a safe and effective form of emergency contraceptive from those that may truly need it not for any medical or scientific reason, but because it would be easier for your local Walgreens to enforce.

Unrestricted access to Plan B would dramatically reduce the abortion rate in this country. If those in the pro-life/anti-choice movement hate abortion so much, then why aren’t they bending over backwards to make Plan B as widely accessible as possible? In his point-counterpoint, Tyler Friederich notes that “studies have indicated that there is no correlation between the use of emergency contraceptives and sexual promiscuity.” Look at the numbers, look at the science. There is no logical reason that Plan B, or any contraceptive, should be denied to anyone.

This decision by the FDA is a small and tainted victory in the losing war for women’s reproductive rights. Alarmingly, the public discourse over reproductive rights has shifted to the right. The debate used to be whether or not women should be allowed to have an abortion. Now the debate is over whether or not any of us should be allowed to have contraception. It is becoming increasingly obvious that pro-life groups, more than just wanting to deny women the ability to have an abortion, want to deny women the ability to have sex.