1:53 PM CDT, May 1, 2013
The Food and Drug Administration announced yesterday it will allow the morning-after pill known as Plan B to be sold over-the-counter to anyone 15 or older. It's a good step, but it falls short of what's needed: making Plan B accessible without an age limit.
There is, after all, no effective age restriction on kids having sex and getting pregnant. Some of them do it as soon as they reach puberty. That is regrettable, but Plan B doesn't facilitate teen sex; it merely protects against one of its major consequences.
Nor is there an age limit on other common drugs with far greater risks. Teens can buy acetaminophen and aspirin, which can kill when taken in excess, laxatives, which can be dangerously abused by anorexics, and Dextromethorphan, a cough syrup ingredient that can be used to get high and can cause brain damage. By contrast, a federal judge found that Plan B "would be probably among the safest drugs approved for over-the-counter sale for the pediatric population."
If the health and safety of adolescent girls is the issue, pregnancy and childbirth are the real danger -- not the morning-after pill. Since girls can already get birth control pills by prescription without parental involvement, why shouldn't they be able to get Plan B?
The age restriction is unjustifiable for two reasons. First is that even younger girls have a constitutional privacy right to decide whether to expose themselves to the risk of pregnancy. Second is that many teens don't have IDs with their birth dates. So an age limit will shut out not only 14-year-olds but 17-year-olds who lack proof of age.
Making Plan B available over-the-counter like other medicines would avoid that problem. It would also protect the vital interests of girls who need and want it.
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