The idea of teenagers having unfettered access to the “morning-after” pill makes some parents understandably squeamish. But denying the drug to girls could have had a devastating impact on their lives, and the Obama administration has finally made the right call by dropping its objections to the drug’s availability at pharmacies.
If taken within three days after sex, Plan B can safely prevent pregnancy. The drug isn’t a substitute for condoms and other forms of birth control, but is a useful emergency measure. Still, both the Bush and Obama administrations sought to limit its availability to teens by requiring that they go through the cumbersome process of getting a prescription first instead of buying it directly, as adult women can. There was no medical justification for the age distinction, and earlier this year Judge Edward Korman overturned the cutoff in a forceful opinion; after initially fighting Korman’s order, the Obama administration gave up on Monday.
Easier availability of Plan B will change lives, especially for vulnerable girls. The very teens who were most likely to have difficulty getting a prescription within the three-day window — victims of abuse, girls with unstable family lives — are also the ones most likely to need it. The fears of parents that availability of the drug will lead to more teen sex are reasonable, but perhaps overblown; Plan B, which costs around $50 a dose, is far too expensive for most teens — or, indeed, anyone else — to use habitually. That may be reinforced by the way it’s displayed in stores: For fear of theft, some pharmacies will likely keep it behind the counter.
With other birth-control methods available, Korman’s order may end up affecting relatively few girls. But for some teens, the lifting of the age restriction will be an enormous relief. Unwanted teen pregnancy is life-altering, and pharmacies and the government should remove unncessary barriers to safe and effective emergency contraception.