Emergency contraception is a form of birth control that should appeal to any supporter of women’s health, regardless of his or her belief about abortion. If granted over-the-counter status, emergency contraception, also known as EC, could reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions in the United States by half. Unfortunately, the Food and Drug Administration recently denied EC over-the-counter status but failed to provide an adequate explanation for this refusal. This denial is unacceptable, for it limits a woman’s access to a safe and effective form of birth control.
EC is a highly effective form of post-coital birth control that can be used when a condom breaks or is misused, when a woman forgets to take her birth control or when intercourse is forced. It is a concentrated dosage of the hormones found in ordinary oral contraception that prevents pregnancy by preventing ovulation, inhibiting the locomotion of the sperm, interfering with fertilization and preventing implantation of the egg in the uterus. EC is not an abortion pill, which is taken after a fetus has already begun to grow. In fact, EC will not harm or affect a current pregnancy in anyway.
EC is one of the safest and most effective drugs to come before the FDA. All studies have shown that Plan B, the current emergency contraceptive drug on the market, is safe and 75 to 88 percent effective if taken within 120 hours of unprotected sex. Since it consists of only two pills taken at a 12-hour interval, it is easy to self-administer.
While some fear that a wider availability of EC would cause an increase in unprotected sex among teenagers, studies in states where EC is available over-the-counter have proved that this concern is unfounded. For the majority of the population, the cost of Plan B prohibits its use as a primary form of birth control, and a wider access to birth control encourages rather than hinders the use of barrier methods of contraception.
Emergency contraception could potentially help women, but its current prescription-only status prevents many of them from obtaining it. Many low-income women and those who live in rural areas may have difficulty reaching a health care professional to obtain a prescription. Even women with ready access to a health care professional may have difficulty securing a timely appointment. Victims of rape or incest may not be physically or emotionally able to visit a physician in the first 72 hours following sexual assault, the time when EC is most effective.
Even women with prescriptions may face additional delays, since many pharmacists refuse to fill prescriptions for EC on moral grounds. If EC were available over-the-counter, women would not have to depend on the timely cooperation of physicians and pharmacists. They would be empowered to manage their reproductive health.
It is reprehensible that the FDA continues to withhold an effective, safe and infinitely beneficial drug from the market. The FDA’s own committee of scientists recommended the approval of EC; the fact that the FDA has not yet approved it indicates that the organization is deferring to political and ideological, rather than scientific, influences. Their claim to inadequate information about the drug, which they cited as their reason for rejecting it, was unfounded in light of the numerous studies that have recently been published about EC.
This disregard for both scientific evidence and women’s health has prompted several FDA officials to resign, including Office of Women’s Health Director Dr. Susan Wood, who explained that the recent decision betrayed her “core commitment to improving and advancing women’s health.” We cannot support a government organization that would succumb to political pressure, failing to improve the health and safety of the American population. The FDA has a duty to approve Plan B for over-the-counter status and grant women the access to good health that they deserve.
Rachel Criswell is a junior in Branford College. She is co-coordinator of The Reproductive Rights Action League at Yale and an intern at Planned Parenthood of CT.