November 27, 2012 — The American Academy of Pediatrics on Monday issued a policy statement recommending that pediatricians educate their patients about emergency contraception and prescribe the medication in advance to girls under age 17, Reuters reports. The statement was published in the journal Pediatrics.
Barriers to EC Access
Under current federal policy, girls under age 17 must get a prescription for EC. Last December, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled FDA's decision to approve over-the-counter sales of EC to women of any age. The current policy means that women older than age 17 must present proof of age to obtain EC without a prescription and that teenagers "face a significant barrier if they suddenly need [EC] at midnight on a Saturday," according to Susan Wood, former assistant commissioner for women's health at FDA.
Another obstacle teens face is that some physicians refuse to provide their patients with a prescription for EC. Other doctors only provide a prescription in cases of rape, suggesting that the refusal "may be related to the physician's beliefs about whether it is OK for teenagers to have sex," AAP's research shows.
Details of Policy Statement
AAP's policy statement stressed pediatricians' "duty to inform their patients about relevant, legally available treatment options," including those "to which they object" (Begley, Reuters, 11/26). The information should be provided within discussions on sexual health, regardless of if the teen is sexually active, according to AAP.
The policy statement also notes the importance of writing a prescription for EC in advance, citing a 2010 review in the Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology that found advanced prescriptions decreased the time between sexual activity and when the medication was taken -- thereby increasing the drug's efficacy -- and did not boost teens' sexual activity (Pearson, Huffington Post, 11/26).
The recommendation is part of a broader public health strategy to reduce teen pregnancy rates, according to Cora Breuner, a pediatrician at Seattle Children's Hospital who led the AAP panel that produced the recommendations. AAP noted that although the U.S. teen pregnancy rate has declined since 1991, the rate is higher than in most other developed countries. However, the rate of sexual activity -- more than 40% among those ages 15 to 18 -- is lower in the U.S. than in most of those countries (Reuters, 11/26).
Debra Ness, publisher & president, National Partnership
Andrea Friedman, associate editor & director of reproductive health programs, National Partnership
Marya Torrez, associate editor & senior reproductive health policy counsel, National Partnership
Melissa Safford, associate editor & policy advocate for reproductive health, National Partnership
Perry Sacks, assistant editor & health program associate, National Partnership
Cindy Romero, assistant editor & communications assistant, National Partnership
Justyn Ware, editor
Amanda Wolfe, editor-in-chief
Heather Drost, Hanna Jaquith, Marcelle Maginnis, Ashley Marchand and Michelle Stuckey, staff writers
Tucker Ball, director of new media, National Partnership