The U.S. Food and Drug Administration fell far short of protecting young women when it announced Tuesday that the Plan B "morning after' emergency contraception pill would be moved from behind the counter of pharmacies to regular store shelves and that teens as young as 15 would be able to purchase it as long as they show proof of age.
Scientific studies have shown that Plan B is safe for use by any female capable of getting pregnant, regardless of age. And the FDA's new policy fails to comply with a recent court ruling finding that no age restrictions should be placed on the contraceptive. The Obama administration is appealing that ruling.
The new policy is a first step. But it's impractical if purporting to help 15-year-old girls who need emergency contraception. Because 15 is not old enough to obtain a driver's license, few carry around proof of age with them. How many people of any age have their birth certificate handy at any given time? If you need emergency contraception that must be taken within 48 hours, it's unreasonable to expect a teenage girl to figure out and complete the process of obtaining a state ID card or something similar as a source of identification. And it's inappropriate to leave their life and their health to the whim of a pharmacy clerk who may or may not deem their alternative ID acceptable.
And having to prove age to purchase Plan B affects more than just teenagers. It affects undocumented women and others who might not have access to, or have misplaced, their ID.
Tara Culp-Ressler argued in a Wednesday piece for ThinkProgress.Org that the ID requirement has made it "harder for everyone to access Plan B, as pharmacists often falsely tell older women they may not purchase emergency contraception without a prescription or incorrectly deny Plan B to men.'
While we agree that the best health choices for young people are made in conjunction with their parents, we must acknowledge that it does not always occur. Young women who find themselves in need of emergency contraception may not feel they can share it with anyone.
And teens younger than 15 may also face this dilemma. But under the FDA's policy, young teens unfortunately will need emergency contraception but won't have access.