Support for teen emergency contraception access deemed 'foolish'

Doctor and patient Credit wwwopacagov CNA US Catholic News 9 25 2012 A doctor visits with her patient. |

Doctors and pro-life advocates warn that the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendation of emergency contraceptives for teenage girls promotes unwise and "risky behaviors."

"It is beyond belief that the AAP would make this statement which is not in the best interest of teens … but in fact encourages them to initiate sexual activity and to do more risky behaviors. It's very foolish," Doctor Donna Harrison told CNA on Nov. 27.

A policy statement released Nov. 26 by the American Academy of Pediatrics aims to "encourage routine counseling and advance emergency-contraception prescription as 1 part of a public health strategy to reduce teen pregnancy."

This recommendation is disconcerting to pro-life health care professionals because at least one method of emergency contraception, known as ulipristal or ella, can work by inducing abortion.

Harrison, who is the director of research and public policy for the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, stated that "ella clearly can end a pregnancy that's already implanted in the mother's womb – it is clearly capable of killing an unborn child.

"Pro-life doctors will not prescribe ella, as an issue of conscience," she added.

Harrison also raised concern about the safety of teenage girls who take ella.

"Because ella is a drug like RU-486," her organization is "very concerned about the misuse of this drug for abortions, and what we see with women who use RU-486 is haemorrhage and fatal bacterial infections."

"And we know that ella has not been tested in young girls. The testing was just in women over 18, so we have no safety data about young girls using this powerful drug."

The other major drug discussed by the American Academy of Pediatrics' policy statement is levonorgestrel, or Plan B.

According to Harrison, the descriptions from the manufacturer and the FDA both note that Plan B has "a mechanism of action that can also prevent the embryo implanting, so that also ends the life of an unborn child."

Harrison pointed out that "contraception" is generally understood to work before fertilization, but that these "emergency contraceptives" can kill an embryo.

"That becomes a pro-life issue … are you willing to take the life of another human being? Drugs that work after fertilization we don't do, because we don't kill our second patient, who is the embryo-fetus who's conceived inside the mother."

Population Research Institute president Steven Mosher raised similar concerns about the abortifacient nature of emergency contraception, as well as fears about conscience protection for Catholic physicians.

"The AAP statement nonetheless asserts that pediatricians have an ethical responsibility to 'inform/educate about availability and access to emergency-contraception services.' There is no ethical basis for this assertion which, if enforced, would violate the conscience of all Catholic and many Christian physicians," Mosher wrote Nov. 27.

Giving emergency contraceptives to teenage girls has in studies been shown to not decrease pregnancies or sexual activity, according to Harrison. She also said that "it does lead to an increase" in sexually transmitted diseases.

"So to give underage girls, for an organization that claims it is interested in the health of young girls, is a really stupid thing to do."

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Harrison believes that the recommendation will end up encouraging "a lot of young girls to initiate sexual activity, and get into a sexually active relationship that they find later they can't back out of, and that's the stupidity."

The American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendations "would be devastating, from a public health perspective," Leslee Unruh, founder of National Abstinence Clearinghouse, told CNA Nov. 28.

Rather than providing teens with pharmaceuticals, Unruh said teens should be taught about "the real meaning of love and intimacy and bonding."

"Love is the better answer," she said, "they will see chemicals aren't the answer."

"I believe it would be devastating for young men and women who would go that route."

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