Late Monday evening, President Obama’s Administration announced that it will stop all further attempts to limit the sale of emergency Plan B (“Levonorgestrel”) anti-contraception, morning-after pills. This comes about as the Obama Administration buckles under pressure from pro-abortion groups. As a result, the Administration’s decision will make the so-called morning-after pill available to females of all ages without a prescription and without identification. The Obama Administration views this as a great victory for “reproductive justice” for tweens and teens. Further, the Obama Administration will withdraw its appeal on this case ending the litigation. Previously, the morning-after pill was only available without a prescription to females 17 and older who presented proof of age to a pharmacist. Levonorgestrel is an emergency contraceptive that is used to prevent pregnancy after sexual intercourse, or after the failure of another birth control method. It prevents a woman’s egg from developing fully, and may also prevent attachment of the woman’s egg to the wall of the uterus. It is important for my readers to note that this will occur after fertilization.
In early April, federal Judge Edward Korman said the US Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) had been “arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable” in rejecting that emergency contraception be made available over the counter to girls of all ages. Plaintiffs in this action claimed that the FDA limit unfairly kept women and girls from obtaining the drug, which is most effective when taken within 72 hours of sexual intercourse. Judge Korman then ordered the FDA to make emergency contraception available without age or any point-of-sale restrictions. Annie Tummino, the plaintiff in this case and the coordinator of National Women’s Liberation movement (yes, really!), said: “This decision by the [Obama Administration] affirms what feminists have been fighting for all along: the morning-after pill should be available to females of all ages, on the shelf at any convenience store, just like aspirin or condoms.” In an emailed statement, Ms. Tummino further observed that women and girls should have “the absolute right to control our bodies without having to ask a doctor or a pharmacist for permission.” And NARAL Pro-Choice America president Ilyse Hogue further welcomed the decision by the Obama Administration.
Like most other medications, Levonorgestrel has significant side effects. The Office of Population Research at Princeton University notes, “About 20% of women . . . experienced headaches following . . . treatment, 13-14% experienced painful menstruation, and 11-12% experienced nausea.” Dr. David B. Samadi, Vice Chairman of the Department of Urology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, who might know more about this issue than even a federal judge, said in a recent interview:
[Y]ou have everybody that can get this medication without any doctor supervision, without any prescription. And it can really encourage and promote having a lot of sexual activities which can spread all the sexually-transmitted diseases, [cause] unwanted abortions, on and on. This decision just doesn’t make much sense medically and morally and ethically.
As to side effects, Dr. Samadi said, “There’s bleeding and there’s many others. It affects hormonal changes in young girls like this, so it’s not just … there are no consequences. It’s got to be done under doctor supervision and not on your own.” I can readily imagine that young women, often lacking mature judgment in these matters, might pop these pills like little chocolates each time they engage in sexual relations as a pregnancy preventive measure, which may lead to catastrophic consequences. Since the tweens and teens can soon get this medication without a prescription, there is no required visit to a physician, and the parents might not know. And through peer pressure, as Dr. Samadi acknowledged, it might lead some girls to become more sexually active at a younger age. After all, television programs such as MTV’s Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant (among others) promote and glamorize pregnant teens as celebrities, notwithstanding the fact that teen pregnancy usually leaves the mothers in a cycle of poverty. Further, we are in the midst of an epidemic of sexually transmitted infectious diseases (“STDs) in the United States. In fact, the United States presently has the highest rate of STD infection in the industrialized world. According to the federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”), there are about 20 million new infections in the United States each year, with young people age 15 to 24 accounting for 50 percent of all new STD infections, a rate much higher than the proportion of teens in the population. Sadly, one in four teens will contract an STD each year. And the highest infection rate for gonorrhea is found among teen girls age 15 to 19. Moreover, please don’t think that it can’t happen to your child, or the child of a family member, or your neighbor’s child: STDs affects young people of all racial, cultural, socio-economic, and religious backgrounds. The CDC estimates that simply the direct medical costs of STDs are approximately $16 billion annually. And yet, morning-after pills are not 100 percent effective against pregnancy. Of course, everyone acknowledges that the only real way to avoid an STD or pregnancy among unmarried teens is through abstinence until marriage. However, you may recall that the Obama Administration eliminated more than $170 million in annual federal funding targeted at sexual abstinence programs. During 2008, then presidential candidate Barack Obama, in a town hall meeting in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, famously observed: “I’ve got two daughters: 9 years old and 6 years old. I am going to teach them first of all about values and morals. But if they make a mistake, I don’t want them punished with a baby. I don’t want them punished with an STD at the age of 16.” Now that Malia is 14 and Sasha is 12, President and Mrs. Obama may never know if their daughters will get morning-after pills. But at least, the Obamas can rejoice that their daughters, and countless other young women of the same age, might not be “punished” with a baby. However, STD risk affecting 1 in 4 teens remains the same.