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Alexandra Tashman: Change in Plan B policy reaffirms women’s rights

By Alexandra Tashman

April 17, 2013 12:01 am

In a decision lauded by advocates of reproductive rights nationwide, federal Judge Edward R. Korman ordered the Food and Drug Administration to make emergency contraceptives available to anyone, regardless of age, as an over-the-counter prescription – a policy change that will take place within the next couple weeks.

This ruling is a step forward in the seemingly ceaseless battle to guarantee women’s reproductive autonomy. It reaffirms a woman’s right to do what she feels is best for her body, a freedom too often under attack in the United States.

But more than anything, by removing the age restriction on emergency contraceptives, Judge Korman’s ruling respects the fact that a woman’s voice should be the only one deciding what’s right for her body.

Although this ruling will not affect the majority of UCLA students, who are generally age 17 and above, it can have an effect on college accessibility for teens – fewer than two percent of teenage mothers complete college by the time they turn 30. The prevention of teen pregnancy through better access to emergency contraceptives should be treated as a matter of opportunity, whether to higher education or preferred career options.

The need for emergency contraception stems from the risk of an unwanted pregnancy. Unwanted pregnancies result from a myriad of circumstances – not only one-night stands, but also from sex between partners in a long-standing relationship, instances of rape and birth control failure.

Women have the medical ability to counteract this risk post-coitus, with the availability of emergency contraception, or as it’s more commonly known, Plan B or “the morning-after pill.”

Emergency contraception is currently only available over the counter to people over the age of 17 in the United States; by law, a pharmacist is required to verify your age with government identification before selling you the pill.

As it stands, a person age 16 and under can obtain the pill with a prescription from a doctor. However, the risks of parental involvement are important given how time-sensitive the medication is – emergency contraception is only effective up to five days after sex, depending on the brand.

Taking parents and age out of the equation will allow young women to get the medical care they need when they need it. Plus, emergency contraception can cost as little as $10 – a price that is certainly manageable.

And while detractors could argue that easing access to emergency contraceptives for underage women will only encourage youthful promiscuity, it is already the case that 13 percent of teens have had sex by age 15, and 70 percent by their 19th birthday.

Removing identification requirements also benefits those without a government ID – this could include anyone from a 17-year-old who is already eligible for access, but may not have a driver’s license to prove it, to an undocumented resident.

It’s also important to understand and address the many misconceptions that surround emergency contraception – namely that it’s an “abortion pill.” The only way that emergency contraception relates to abortion is that emergency contraception can prevent one in the first place. The purpose of emergency contraception is to prevent an unwanted pregnancy after contraceptive failure or unprotected intercourse.

Emergency contraception works by primarily preventing ovulation – it keeps an egg from being released from the ovaries. This is directly different from an abortifacient, which terminates a pregnancy.

Emergency contraception can equip women everywhere to make their own decisions about pregnancy and reproductive health. As a point of personal freedom, access to emergency contraception acts as a guarantee of safety and opportunity for women of all ages nationwide.

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