The federal government has until tomorrow, December 7th, to decide whether it’ll allow the sales of Plan B One-Step emergency contraceptive directly on store shelves. Teva Pharmaceuticals, the manufacturer of the pill, petitioned the FDA to make it available on store shelves alongside condoms and other contraceptives. While technically Plan B is already an over-the-counter product for women 17 and older, it’s still sold only at pharmacies and health clinics. Proponents for increased access to contraceptives feel that this current “gatekeeper” method is unnecessary, and support a move toward wider access. “Hopefully, it will be right on the shelves between the condoms and the pregnancy tests,” said Kirsten Moore of the Reproductive Health Technologies Project, a Washington-based advocacy group. “We think it’s good news for women’s health and long overdue.”
The distribution and use of the “morning after pill” has been controversial since it first hit the market in 1999. Conservative and anti-choice groups see the pill, which inhibits the fertilization of the egg when used up to 72 hours after unprotected sex, as akin to abortion. Opponents have also voiced that there may be health risks if a high-dose hormone is made so readily available, or that it may infringe on parents’ ability to monitor their children. Most of these claims about safety have been soundly refuted by the manufacturers–Teva’s Amy Niemann said, “We have a tremendous amount of safety information regarding this particular product. It is classified as very, very safe.” Yet conservative groups continue to balk. Janice Crouse of Concerned Women for America says, “When anybody can buy an emergency contraceptive like this over the counter, you open the door for all sorts of abuse, and especially so when it comes to child abuse and child exploitation.”
What kind of additional abuses is Ms. Crouse envisioning? That child molesters and rapists will use Plan B contraceptives to further their abusive activities? We think she’s missing the mark on this issue, and that perhaps “concerned women for America” should concentrate on preventing child abuse to begin with, instead of limiting access to contraceptives for all women in the U.S. In the meantime, we’ll choose to focus on the fact that a woman should have access to safe and effective birth-control methods. Fingers crossed for good news tomorrow, and that the federal government is staying focused on this, too.