The Food and Drug Administration this week ruled that emergency contraception – the Plan B One-Step morning after pill– should be available to 15-year-olds without a prescription, lowering the age from 17. The decision also allows the pill to be displayed on pharmacy shelves, rather than held behind the counter.
The ruling is an attempt by the FDA to find middle ground on an issue that has been percolating for some time, and became a minor controversy during the 2012 presidential election.
Last year, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius overruled the FDA's recommendation that all age restrictions for the pill be eliminated. But as the New York Times noted, Edward Korman, a U.S. District Court judge, "criticized that decision as overtly political and ordered the administration to make the contraceptive widely available." The Justice Department is now attempting to overturn Korman's ruling.
During a press conference in Mexico yesterday, President Obama said that he is "comfortable" with the FDA's latest recommendation. "As the father of two daughters, I think it is important for us to make sure that we apply some common sense to various rules when it comes to over-the-counter medicine," he said. "But I'm very comfortable with the decision they've made right now based on solid scientific evidence for girls 15 and older."
One of the groups that originally sued over the government's age limit, however, has not been mollified. "[The decision] may reduce delays for some young women but it does nothing to address the significant barriers that far too many women of all ages will still find if they arrive at the drugstore without identification," said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights. And the American Academy of Pediatrics agrees. "We still have the major issue, which is our teen pregnancy rate is still too high," said Dr. Cora Breuner.
However, social conservatives see the move to lower the age as problematic.
So should the morning after pill be available to 15-year-olds? Here is the Debate Club's take:
Terry O'Neill President of the National Organization for Women
Deborah Nucatola Senior Director of Medical Services for Planned Parenthood Federation of America
Jessica Arons Director of the Women's Health and Rights Program at the Center for American Progress
Anna Higgins Director of Family Research Council's Center for Human Dignity