It's a fact: Contraceptive use improves overall health. It enables women to plan and space their pregnancies. It has contributed to dramatic declines in maternal and infant mortality. And it has been a driving force in reducing unintended pregnancies and the need for abortion.
But things don't always work out as planned. Emergency contraception (EC) is a safe, effective way to prevent pregnancy after contraceptive failure or unprotected sex, such as when women are sexually assaulted. Although EC is not a substitute for regular contraceptive use, it can help reduce unintended pregnancy if women are able to access it in a timely manner. At the National Partnership, we want EC to be accessible to all women who need it. That's why we're so disappointed by a recent decision by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Here's some background: In 2006, after years of delay in making a decision on whether to make the emergency contraceptive Plan B available without a prescription, the FDA decided to limit over-the-counter sales to women ages 18 and older. It was a highly controversial decision because it directly contradicted an independent panel of experts who voted unanimously in 2003 that Plan B was safe for non-prescription use. That expert panel also voted 23-4 to recommend that Plan B be available without prescription or age restriction.
Thanks to a lawsuit filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights, a U.S. District Court finally ruled in 2009 that the FDA's decision to limit access of Plan B was politically-motivated and scientifically-flawed. The Court ordered the FDA to lower the age limit and re-examine whether Plan B should be available to women of all ages without prescription.
However, the FDA merely reduced the age limit for accessing Plan B to 17 - and it recently announced that it does not plan to reconsider expanding its availability. Read the entire timeline here (link to RHTP timeline).
We are disappointed by that announcement. As FDA officials know, reproductive health services - including easy access to emergency contraceptives - are basic health services for women of all ages.
Politics should never get in the way of meeting women's health care needs. Please contact the FDA and ask its leaders to make emergency contraception available without a prescription to women of all ages.
Unintended pregnancy does not discriminate- women of all ages need access to emergency contraception so they can prevent unintended pregnancy.