Critics decry decision to remove age limits for Plan B

Plan B CNA US Catholic News 9 24 2012 Plan B

Citing the health and wellbeing of young girls, critics slammed the Obama administration's decision to allow children of any age to purchase "emergency contraception" over-the-counter.

"Irresponsibly removing the important opportunity for a health-care provider to identify and intervene in cases of abuse, and giving a potentially life-ending drug to young girls without any understanding of the medical implications unnecessarily exposes them to risk," said Dr. Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life.

Yoest was one of numerous critics who blasted the federal government's June 10 announcement that it would abide by a court order to make Plan B One-Step available without a prescription or identification requirements to children of any age.

The decision is a reversal of the administration's earlier opposition to the unrestricted access for "emergency contraception."

In December 2011, Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled a plan by a Food and Drug Administration panel to make Plan B available over the counter without age limits. Sebelius cited "significant cognitive and behavioral differences" between older adolescents and the youngest girls of reproductive age, which may affect their ability to properly use the drug.

At the time, President Barack Obama supported the decision, saying that 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."

In April 2013, however, U.S. District Judge Edward Korman ordered the FDA to change its policy and remove all age restrictions on over-the-counter sales of Plan B. He argued that Sebelius' decision had been "politically motivated, scientifically unjustified and contrary to agency precedent."

The Obama administration initially appealed Judge Korman's ruling, arguing that he did not have the authority to determine what kinds of drugs the FDA is required to authorize, and for what ages.

However, the Department of Justice has now notified Judge Korman that it will drop its appeal if he accepts the administration's plan for compliance, which requires Teva Women's Health Inc. to reapply for approval of the product with a new label.

Plan B One-Step, made by Teva Women's Health, Inc., is also called the "morning-after pill" because of its ability to prevent pregnancy following a sexual encounter by inhibiting ovulation.

However, the drug's label warns that if ovulation has already occurred, Plan B can also function by preventing implantation in the mother's womb, thereby ending the life of the already-created human embryo.

The decision will not apply to Ella, another "emergency contraceptive" that has a different active ingredient and is only available with a prescription.

The announcement has been hailed by contraception and abortion advocates.

"This is a huge breakthrough for access to birth control and a historic moment for women's health and equity," said Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards in a statement. "The FDA's decision will make emergency contraception available on store shelves, just like condoms, and women of all ages will be able to get it quickly."

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, also praised the decision.

Northup had previously argued that a minimum age limit and identification requirement for purchasing the drug over-the-counter amounted to "daunting and sometimes insurmountable hoops" for women to jump through.

Other organizations, however, have criticized the decision, warning that it may lead to an increase in promiscuity and sexually transmitted infections, as well as unsafe repeat use.

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Opponents also argued that the new policy will undermine parents' rights to help make medical decisions for their children.

They warned that the pill is labeled as a cancer-causing carcinogen by the World Health Organization and is also associated with increased risk of blood clots, heart attacks, strokes and ectopic pregnancies. Furthermore, they said, there have not been studies on the effects of taking the drug during puberty.

"We're very concerned and disappointed at the same time because what we see here is the government caving to political pressure instead of putting first the health and safety of girls (and) parental rights," said Anna Higgins, director of the Family Research Council's Center for Human Dignity in a statement.

Pro-life organizations also noted the drug's potential to end an unborn human life.

Pushing unlimited abortion and contraception access "does not empower women, nor will it improve women's health in any way," said Father Shenan J. Boquet, president of Human Life International.

"By allowing  very young girls to purchase powerful drugs like Plan B without parental notification or medical consultation this administration is showing a complete disregard for the health of young women, who may also end up unknowingly killing their unborn children."

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