Even though the Food and Drug Administration recommends that emergency contraception — commonly known as “Plan B” — should be available to women of any age, the Health and Human Services Department overruled the FDA last year to restrict access to Plan B for women under the age of 17. And now, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is throwing its weight behind the FDA’s position, recommending that pediatricians across the country make emergency contraception more accessible to their adolescent patients by prescribing it in advance.
Although Plan B is available over the counter for most women, the current federal policy requires young women under 17 years old to obtain a prescription for it. The pediatricians’ group points out that requiring young women to contact a physician for a prescription only after they realize they need emergency contraception presents a significant hurdle for those adolescents, potentially preventing them from being able to take emergency contraception in a timely manner. Providing adolescents with advance prescriptions for Plan B, on the other hand, ensures that they will have contraception readily available to them if they need it:
A 2010 analysis of seven randomized studies of emergency contraception found that having a morning-after prescription in hand did not increase teens’ sexual activity or decrease use of standard contraceptives but did increase use of the pill and shorten the time before a teenager used it after sex.
“It’s just common sense that requiring a prescription is a barrier,” said Bill Alpert, chief program officer of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. “If an august and respected medical group like AAP is suggesting providing emergency contraception to minors is OK, that is a big deal.”
Previous research has shown that women can face barriers to obtaining Plan B even when they follow the current protocol for their age group. Some pharmacists incorrectly inform women over 17 that they can’t access emergency contraception over the counter, and some doctors refuse to provide women under 17 with a prescription for the medication. AAP’s research suggests that some doctors’ refusal to prescribe the morning after pill “may be related to the physician’s beliefs about whether it is OK for teenagers to have sex.” But the group noted that pediatricians “have a duty to inform their patients about relevant, legally available treatment options,” even those “to which they object.”
Dr. Cora Breuner, the pediatrician who oversaw the AAP panel that made the new recommendations, told Reuters that she hopes the group’s guidelines will have important implications for the medical community. “We think this is a big deal,” she said. “The mothership of pediatricians has come out in favor of encouraging routine counseling and advance emergency-contraception prescriptions as one part of a public health strategy to reduce teen pregnancy.”