In a perfect world, teenage girls would not have sex. (Nor would teenage boys.)
But it’s not a perfect world. And even though a 15-year-old girl is too young to drink, smoke, vote or even see an R-rated movie legally, her body is more than capable of getting pregnant if she has unprotected sex.
Tuesday the Food and Drug Administration approved the sale of Plan B, the morning-after pill, over-the-counter to girls age 15 and older who’ll have to show identification to prove their age. Previously, teens under 17 needed a prescription while women 17 and older had to ask for the drug from the pharmacist.
The FDA’s move to make the morning-after pill more accessible is something of a compromise, however, and may only be a symbolic gesture. A U.S. District judge ordered the FDA in early April to make it available to all women, and the Obama administration was given until May 5 to file an appeal.
If no appeal is filed, the court order stands and there’ll be no age restriction on who can purchase the drug.
It’s important to note that Plan B, manufactured by Teva Pharmaceuticals, is emergency contraception and must be taken within 72 hours of having unprotected sex. It is not an abortion pill like RU-486 or mifepristone. Plan B prevents pregnancy by primarily delaying or stopping ovulation, while the so-called abortion pill is only given to someone after she has become pregnant.
As expected, even in my circle of friends, the reaction to having the morning-after pill almost as accessible as a new toothbrush varied from outrage to approval. One who found it “appalling” admitted that she’s not an authority as she doesn’t have kids, but she pointed out, “Fifteen-year-olds are still children.”
In fact, in most states the age of consent for sexual activity is around 16. But that doesn’t stop teens from having sex.
I’ve survived the teenage years with a daughter. I’m lucky. We talked about these issues, as embarrassing as they were for both of us. I’m lucky, too, to be friends with other moms willing to discuss difficult topics.
Many of my daughter’s friends were already on the birth control pill in high school — “for bad cramps” — which renders the availability of other birth control moot. I couldn’t help but wonder how many of those girls suffered that much each month, or whether it put parents’ minds at ease that their daughters were protected from an unwanted pregnancy. (Still have to have that talk about STDs, though.)
Regardless, parents need to take responsibility for discussing sex — as in waiting to have sex, the consequences of having sex and safe sex practices — with their teenagers, both girls and boys. One friend, who supports the availability of Plan B, told me she worked hard with her daughters to encourage them to talk to her “if they had any questions or issues about anything.”
Not every teenager has a supportive parent who remains vigilant, however. And for those teens who do engage in sex without birth control, or a method that fails, there is the option of the morning-after pill.
It could keep a bad decision from becoming worse.