As a result of U.S. District Judge Edward Korman’s ruling to overturn Bush-era age restrictions on the Plan B emergency contraceptive last month, the FDA will be lowering the age requirement to 17 years. This change has given rise to the debate, always ongoing but recently fairly toned down, between women’s rights groups and prominent conservatives in a superficial clash of ideologies. And until now, this overheated debate has always resulted in the opposition’s failure to consider the changes fairly.
Plan B is an emergency contraceptive that, if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, can decrease a woman’s chances of pregnancy by almost 90 percent. Previously, Plan B was only available over-the-counter to adults over the age of 18 who could provide valid identification.
The new policy changes have been made out to seem momentous, even though they only lower the age restriction by one year. Minors could also obtain Plan B under the previous policy simply by visiting a free health clinic for a prescription before proceeding to the pharmacy.
Though minors may have faced more difficulties in obtaining emergency contraception in the past, the stricter age regulations still didn’t facilitate parental supervision and only served to breed a slew of new potential problems — visiting a doctor’s office can be time-consuming, and Plan B is more effective the earlier it’s taken.
And if the minor didn’t want to undergo the small hassle of visiting a doctor’s office first, she could just get an older friend to visit the pharmacy instead — a half-hour procedure at the most. Reducing the age to 17 will really alter very little in terms of who can get Plan B and how easy they can get it. Given the relatively small-scale impact of the changes, the outrage over relaxing the age requirement seems to be little more than a dogged, immature resistance to a small liberal advance.
The conservative backlash relies heavily on two arguments. Criticizers of the change argue that the ruling undermines parental control over their kids, but in a healthy parent-child relationship, successful communication on teenagers’ sexual decisions would bypass the need for governmental age controls on emergency contraceptives. These restrictions are largely implemented to discourage minors from making poor decisions, but the measures to regulate youth behavior usually fails due to its retroactive nature.
Second, conservatives frequently apostrophize Plan B by comparing it to an abortion pill — but given that Plan B primarily works by preventing an egg from being implanted, which is when pregnancy begins in medical terms, the argument must be considered utterly null. Considering the weak nature of both of these counter-arguments, it’s hard to believe that the conservative critics dedicated any fair consideration to the policy changes before opposing it on solely ideological grounds.
Emergency contraception isn’t just used in cases of teen sex or irresponsible sex, and the importance of its availability transcends age groups. When taking into account that 88 percent of women between 20 and 24 have had sexual intercourse according to the CDC, and the fact that no form of birth control is fail-proof, it’s clear that accidents are guaranteed to happen regularly. Plan B is vital as an option for all women.
Statistics suggest that the average American teenager will have sexual intercourse for the first time in their early-to-mid teens, and the age has been steadily dropping over the past few years. This trend should only continue. Until it’s miraculously reversed, there’s little we can do but offer strong sexual education, resources and guidance.
And however grudgingly, we must also re-evaluate the age restrictions on birth control and emergency contraceptives to accommodate this sad trend and prevent further complications and hardships in the meantime. Plan B, though no one desires to ever have need of it, can be commended for its ability to prevent even worse scenarios — without it as an option, young women caught in the unfortunate situation of unwanted pregnancy might subject themselves to the dangers of both safe and unsafe abortions. The alternative, to endure the prolonged stress of raising a child under unstable conditions, isn’t much more promising.
In the end, the age restrictions have little use or value. Lowering the age requirement for obtaining Plan B by one year isn’t going to solve the problem of unprotected teen sex — what it will do is facilitate a more efficient process for women who wish to prevent unintended pregnancy.
And if parents want their teenagers to be making better and safer decisions about sex, relying on governmental age controls on contraceptives to scare their children from having sex is no substitute for good communication, good education and good parenting.
Asst. Editorials Editor Catherine Cai is a College freshman from Atlanta.