Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Plan B now available for 17-year-olds!

There has always been a lot of controversy around Plan B, or the "morning after pill," a form of emergency contraception. It only recently became available over-the-counter to people over the age of 18 (although some would argue that at $40, it's too expensive). The drug can prevent pregnancy within 72 hours of sexual intercourse, and it is completely unrelated to the abortion pill, RU-486. Now, after a court ruling, the FDA has lowered the age at which both men and women can buy Plan B by one year - so now 17-year-olds have access.

The New York Times reports that "The agency’s decision came after Judge Edward R. Korman of Federal District Court in New York ruled last month in a highly unusual case that the agency’s decision to limit easy access to Plan B to those 18 and older was driven by politics, not science." This is an important decision, because it's crucial that women have easy access to Plan B after having unprotected sex - the pill can help prevent pregnancy up to 5 days after intercourse, but it's far less effective after 72, and works best when taken as close to intercourse as possible.

This is exciting news! Although Plan B has not noticeably affected either abortion rates or teen pregnancy rates since it became available over-the-counter, it's still good to give younger women access to it. Now, we just need to educate them about its benefits. Shockingly, even women who are given the medication free often fail to take it after having unprotected sex. So this step in the right direction needs to be accompanied by a heavy dose of education. James Trussell, a Princeton professor in the Office of Population Research, admits that this is something of an uphill battle. "There is not going to be a cheap cure to the unintended pregnancy battle in this country," he told the NYT. But I think we can all agree that this is somewhere we should be putting our money, because Judge Korman is right - this is a public health issue, not a political one. And this increase in access to Plan B is definitely cause for celebration.

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