Tuesday, December 13, 2011

After the Morning After Pill


photo by jaredjhansen

A startling decision by the secretary of Health and Human Services reversed the FDA's approval for wider availability of emergency contraception, and women over 17 years old are still asking pharmacists for the over-the-counter medication.

With the help of obstetrician/gynecologists and pediatricians, Food and Drug Administration commissioner Margaret Hamburg, M.D. was ready to have Plan B in the open, without restrictions and within the reach of all who might need it:
I reviewed and thoughtfully considered the data, clinical information, and analysis provided by [Center for Drug Evaluation and Research], and I agree with the Center that there is adequate and reasonable, well-supported, and science-based evidence that Plan B One-Step is safe and effective and should be approved for nonprescription use for all females of child-bearing potential.
Plan B, and it's generic associates, are the gray area between the birth control pill and the abortion pill. Emergency contraception contains a larger dose of levonorgestrel, the active ingredient in oral contraception.

Yet, using the authority granted by the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius slammed the FDA decision. The official statement she released last Wednesday centered on this argument:
The average age of the onset of menstruation for girls in the United States is 12.4 years. However, about ten percent of girls are physically capable of bearing children by 11.1 years of age. It is common knowledge that there are significant cognitive and behavioral differences between older adolescent girls and the youngest girls of reproductive age. If the application were approved, the product would be available, without prescription, for all girls of reproductive age.
Many questioned Selebius's logic. If a girl's body is mature enough to menstruate, wouldn't a hormonally induced period be lady business as usual? And a morning after pill could pose no more danger to an 11-year-old than carrying a pregnancy to term.

Feminists were shocked. Sebelius, usually a champion of reproductive rights under attack for sympathizing with "abortion extremists," flipped her script.

Demonized for her connections to the late abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, religious conservatives thought Selebius unfit for her current position. No one anticipated she would roadblock, putting Plan B on the shelf next to other forms of contraception where it belongs.

After trumping science with politics, Selebius's motives were clear. Assuming she took one for the team, the Obama administration was attempting to gain outside approval on the brink of a re-election year.

It's no secret the GOP are struggling for a front runner. And with Republican candidates dropping like flies, the remaining few seem to think social issues are the way into the undecided hearts of those who pledge red.

But that doesn't mean democrats can't play their game too. Caring about the kids, especially young girls and their budding sexualities, is an excellent strategy to win the support of those who wouldn't normally be so supportive-- until they were left without a leader.

Available to consumers since 1999, Plan B is still confused with RU-486 and often referred to as the abortion pill, even though it cannot terminate an already existing pregnancy. The real abortion pill contains mifepristone and can be taken up to 9 weeks after after the first day of a woman's last period. Emergency contraception is effective for 72 hours following sexual intercourse and merely delays ovulation.

But factual inaccuracies and misconceptions won't keep the anti-abortion movement from opposing Plan B as strongly as they would an abortion clinic.

Obama, once hailed as a protector of women's rights, was the feminist hope for change. Now, as another election approaches, women are the first thing to be offered as a political sacrifice. And as the president struggles to maintain control, so do we.

Even though a team of medical experts deemed the restrictions completely unnecessary, women under 17 still need a prescription from a doctor to obtain Plan B. If they don't have health insurance, or cannot get an appointment within the 72 hour window, this scientific advancement is just another missed opportunity.

And for women over 17, their access continues to be arbitrarily restricted by a pharmacy's business hours.

Others are still empowered as the gate-keepers; not for health or safety, but for ideology. Doctors and pharmacists, as well as politicians and special interest groups still determine whether women can prevent pregnancy or not. Women's fertility is in their own hands-- only after it has passed through everyone else's.

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