The reaction to recent decision by Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that overruled the evidence-based decision reached by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on removing the age restriction on Plan B One Step, a form of emergency contraception, has largely centered around young women and how their access to emergency contraception will continue to be hindered.
But we also want to underscore that young women are just one group of women who are affected by this decision. In reality, all women continue to be affected by the age restriction, as emergency contraception will continue to be kept “behind the counter” at pharmacies, so pharmacists can verify the age of those purchasing it, instead of on the shelves alongside other over the counter medicines (and likely far from the bubblegum).
Additionally, women under 17 or who are over 17, but cannot verify their age with a government issued ID, will continue to need a prescription to access emergency contraception. What if these women are uninsured? What if they don’t have a regular health care provider? In signing the landmark health care law, President Obama sought to improve the health care millions of America receive and in so doing reduce disparities among populations. But by throwing his support behind the Secretary’s decision, he is doing just the opposite, and furthering the disparities among the women who can access emergency contraception.
Furthermore, we know that the efficacy of emergency contraception is time sensitive and women are working with a small window of time to obtain and take it. As such, the focus needs to be on reducing barriers to access and the age restriction is one of the biggest burdens facing many women. Some states have created a work around, and have licensed pharmacists to write prescriptions for women who need emergency contraception in pharmacies, thereby streamlining the process somewhat. But for women to take advantage of this, they need to know they live in a state where this is possible.