By federal law, girls under the age of 17 can only get the morning after pill with a prescription – which really doesn’t make sense if you consider the fact that the pill is most effective in the first 24 hours and getting a prescription often takes longer than that.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has acknowledged the counterproductivity of the federal law, and offered a way to keep it from preventing teen girls from getting the pill if they need it. In a statement on Monday, the AAP urged physicians to give teen patients prescriptions for emergency contraception to keep on hand … for emergencies.
A lot of the resistance to giving teen girls access to birth control comes from people who don’t want teenagers having sex, and think that ignoring it will make it go away, despite several reports that abstinence-only education doesn’t work.
In 2009, 409,840 teens gave birth in the United States, nearly a quarter of those teens were under the age of 17, according to Advocates for Youth.
Clearly, teens are having sex. If they’re going to do so no matter what their parents, pastors and teachers tell them, there should be a system in place to keep them from getting pregnant. And no, condoms are not sufficient. According to a 2006-2008 survey of teen girls, the most common reason for using the morning after pill was condom failure, plus 13% because of rape, which is not usually a case where a girl can insist on using protection.
Helping kids make sure they’re protected from unwanted pregnancy is not encouraging them to have sex, it’s encouraging them to be safe when and if they do.
“A 2010 analysis of seven randomized studies of emergency contraception found that having a morning-after prescription in hand did not increase teens' sexual activity or decrease use of standard contraceptives,” Reuters reports. “But did increase use of the pill and shorten the time before a teenager used it after sex.”
And for the concerned pro-lifers out there, the morning after pill is not a chemically induced abortion; it works by preventing fertilization, not by expelling an already fertilized egg.
Personally I think the federal law is illogical and anyone who wants a morning after pill should be able to get it right away without a doctor’s prescription or a pharmacist’s judgment. But while the law requires a prescription for teens to get the emergency contraception, I hope pediatricians follow the AAP’s recommendation and give patients a prescription to hold on to just in case, so that trying to rush a doctor’s appointment doesn’t add to the already stressful situation of needing the pill.