Earlier this week, after months of attempting to block the over-the-counter sale of emergency contraceptives, the Obama administration reversed its position. Plan B One-Step, commonly known as the morning after pill, will soon be sold over the counter and without an age limit. The Justice Department, which had been fighting to ban OTC sales, ceded to the FDA to certify the nonprescription use of he drug.
Unsurprisingly, the announcement is unleashing a polemic debate. Pro-choice activists lauded the decision, though many remain skeptical and cautious that access to Plan B is an important — though only partial — start to the battle. “This is a huge breakthrough for access to birth control and a historic moment for women’s health and equity," stated stated Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. The Center for Reproductive Rights said the Obama Administration still has more work to do, expanding policy beyond Plan B to offer the offer the "same wide availability for generic, more affordable brands of emergency contraception."
At the same time, pro-life activists are speaking out with equal fervor against the Obama Administration’s announcement. According to the New York Times, the decision could rekindle a high-intensity, politically turbulent debate about contraceptives. “There are so many reasons to maintain some measure of control over the distribution of such a strong drug," said said Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, as she called the announcement "troubling" and "a really bad standard."
It is understandable why unrestricted access to the drug makes pro-life activists uncomfortable and even inflammatory; the decision could promote irresponsible sexual behavior, they claim, while it also relinquishes a parents’ ability to supervise his or her child's use of drugs. But beneath these qualms, pro-life activists are ignoring personal freedom and the ability to chose, which are, after all, the essential values upon which our country was founded.
Judge Korman of the U.S District Court for the Eastern District of New York said that attempts to ban the drug are "politically motivated, scientifically unjustified, and contrary to agency precedent." Korman’s statement illuminates the fact that the battle for reproductive rights is being waged for the wrong reasons, not according to what is safe and scientifically founded, but along the lines of partisan politics and the clash between conservative and liberal values.
We live in an era in which scientific breakthroughs are dramatically changing every-day life; each individual must have the free choice to accept or reject science, not to have that decision imposed upon him or her.
In 2008, an 11-year-old girl died of diabetes because her parents, Dale and Leilani Neumann, professed religious objection to medical treatment. Her condition was easily treatable, and Kara Neuman died when simple medical care could have saved her life. This case, a clash between law and religion, is clearly different from the reproductive rights battle, but I argue that there is an important comparison to be made. Both cases involve the conflict between personal values on the one hand and science and medicine on the other. In both instances, a person of authority exercises his or her own values to infringe upon the rights of a more vulnerable member of society. The Neumann's placed their religious values over the ability to provide medical treatment to their daughter and save her life. In condemning the availability of Plan B, pro-life activists are asking for personal values to trump women's abilities to chose and reap the benefits of science and progress.
I believe that politics must be placed on the back burner in the name of reproductive rights. I also do not wish to be overly apologetic. I argue that pro-choice activists must proceed with caution and applaud the slow and steady changes being offered to women’s rights before demanding more drastic steps. And similar to pro-life activists, I do not believe that young people should have unconditional, abusive access to emergency contraception. With unlimited access, young girls may substitute Plan B for safer methods of birth control such as using condoms. This possibility would be both reckless and harmful for reproductive health. But Plan B is not cheap, and the price makes it unlikely that young people will be able to abuse the drug despite its unrestricted, OTC status. It is also worth noting that rather than promote reckless behavior, access to emergency contraception has actually been shown to reduce young women's likeliness to resort to both safe and unsafe abortion measures.
I acknowledge that ability to buy Plan B without restrictions is minimal when compared with the most drastic issue at stake, a woman's ability to get an abortion. Unrestricted access to Plan B is, nonetheless, a crucial step in the fight for women's reproductive rights and the Obama administration's announcement last night is a step in the right direction for granting each woman control over her own body.