Why Emergency Contraception For Teens Is A Good Idea

plan b

The American Academy of Pediatrics advocates handing out Plan B in schools, and so do I.

It was about a year ago that the feds put the kibosh on over-the-counter emergency contraception for women of all ages, despite solid science from the FDA that proved the morning-after pill was 100% safe and effective regardless of age. Instead, the Obama administration instituted a plan that would require girls under 17 to get a prescription for Plan B, while those 17 and older would have prescription-free access at their local pharmacy.

A few months ago, 13 NYC schools made Plan B available to teens without parental notification. Now, it looks like the American Academy of Pediatrics is looking to shake things up, too, and possibly tear down some of those barriers created last year. Yesterday the AAP released new guidelines that urge doctors to prescribe emergency contraception to teens in advance of need, and I, for one, think it’s a good move.

The idea is that pediatricians will counsel adolescents and teens about emergency contraceptives when they come in for a physical and provide them with a prescription to keep on hand should they ever need it. These 'just-in-case' prescriptions make sense considering that emergency contraception is more effective the sooner you take it and must be taken within five days of unprotected sex. There’s a very small window for treatment, and having Plan B on hand ensures that girls will get the care they need.

Now, I imagine that critics of the AAP will say doling out Plan B to teens pretty much gives them a green light to have sex — and unprotected sex at that. But we've got to move away from the tired opinion that information inspires reckless behavior. It’s just not true. There has been no proof that sex ed and access to emergency contraception encourages more teens to have sex.

However, research does show that nearly half of teenagers have had sex by age 19. Should the 15- and 16-year-olds in that group be at a greater risk for pregnancy because they can’t make it to their doctor's office within 24 hours after a condom breaks? I know fully functioning 30-year-olds with incomes and driver's licenses that wouldn’t be able to a) get their doctors to squeeze them in for an appointment and b) take the time to go to both a doctor's appointment and the pharmacy as quickly as possible.

But 30-year-olds don’t have to worry about that. Last year at a routine annual appointment my nurse practitioner gave me Plan B (for free!) just to keep on hand. And if I hadn’t gotten that freebie, I could just swing by a Walgreens on my way home from work. It’s the 15-year-old who will have to speak up, ask for a ride, and scrounge up the $50 to do the right thing. That is, unless her doctor gives her a little help ahead of time.

What do you think? Should pediatricians give teens advance prescriptions for Plan B?

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