Plan B For 17-Year-Olds
The FDA has agreed to make the “morning-after pill” available to 17-year-olds without a prescription, pursuant to the order of a federal judge.
On March 23, a federal court ordered that Plan B, an emergency contraception pill, be made available over the counter to those 17 and up, the agency said in a statement on its Web site. The agency will not appeal that order, the statement said.
In the order, U.S. District Judge Edward Korman also asked the agency to consider whether the pill should be available to women of all ages without a prescription, saying that such a determination is best left to the expertise of the FDA rather than a federal district judge.
So, law school gives one sufficient expertise to understand that 17-year-old girls should be allowed unsupervised access to abortificants but not enough to be clear on the status of 16-year-olds? That seems like a serious flaw in the curriculum!
Here’s the other weird thing: Ordinary birth control pills, designed to prevent pregnancy before the fact, still require a doctor’s prescription even for adults. By what logic is the federal government required by law to allow access to after-the-fact birth control to minors?
There is no such thing as a 17-year-old “woman,” let alone “women of all ages” defined as “girls 16 and younger.” At least not in an era when those who look to be under 27 are required to show ID to purchase cigarettes and where 18-year-olds who haven’t yet graduated high school have restrictions on their drivers’ licenses.
And he rebuked the FDA for apparently departing from its own procedures with respect to making decisions on the pill’s over-the-counter status, noting the “unusual involvement of the White House in the Plan B decision-making process.”
The plaintiffs in the case presented “unrebutted evidence of the FDA’s lack of good faith” toward the application to switch Plan B from prescription to non-prescription use, the judge wrote. “This lack of good faith is evidenced by, among other things, (1) repeated and unreasonable delays, pressure emanating from the White House, and the obvious connection between the confirmation process of two FDA commissioners and the timing of the FDA’s decisions; and (2) significant departures from the FDA’s normal procedures and policies … as compared to the review of other switch applications in the past 10 years,” Korman wrote.
Now, this is an interesting issue. Presumably, Plan B is “safe” for even young girls — otherwise, given the variation in physiology in the population, no company would risk selling it to 18-year-olds. So, the issue of where to draw the line is based, not on health concerns, but rather on social judgments of maturity and the ability to make independent decisions. In other words, a political judgment has to be made. Why shouldn’t the White House be involved? (And I say that with the opposition party currently in control and slated to be there for at least another 1367 days.)
As to the practicalities, 16 would seem to be the cut-off, since that’s the age where kids can get a driver’s license and therefore have official ID. Otherwise, you might as well just declare open season.
Incidentally, I believe Plan B ought to be available and am not sure that it, along with ordinary birth control pills, prenatal vitamins, and a whole host of other things that now require a prescription shouldn’t be available over the counter. But the age at which minor children get access to things strikes me as a public policy decision that ought to be left to the political process rather than the courts.