Tuesday, August 01, 2006

OTC Plan B?

Plan B, a "morning-after pill", is currently being considered by lawmakers for OTC sales.
FDA Considers Morning-After Pill Sales
Jul 31 10:54 AM US/Eastern
The government is considering allowing over-the-counter sales of the morning-after pill, but only to women 18 and older. The surprise move Monday revives efforts to widen access to the emergency contraceptive almost a year after it was thought doomed.

The Food and Drug Administration notified manufacturer Barr Laboratories Inc. early Monday that it wanted to meet within seven days to iron out new steps the company must take in its three-year battle to sell the pill, called Plan B, without a prescription to at least some women.
Obviously such a plan to sell contraceptive/abortifacient medications will spur controversy, and it has.

FDA nominee faces senators after Plan B move

Barr's bid to sell Plan B without a prescription has lingered at the FDA since 2003, spurring intense lobbying from both sides of the issue. Supporters maintain easier access would help prevent abortions while opponents, mostly conservatives, argue it would spur promiscuity.

"An 18-year-old man, a 19-year-old woman could buy it, then turn around right in the store and give it to a 13 year-old girl. The person who buys it means nothing,"
said Concerned Women for America President Wendy Wright.

This is a serious concern. What would stop an older young woman or a man from buying and giving such medications to a younger girl? Kids aren't supposed to buy tobacco under 18, alcohol under 21 (depending on the state), or be tattooed or pierced under 18 without parental approval. In schools, they may not even be given a pain reliever without parental consent. Plan B is a drug and it does have side effects as any medication does. Minors shouldn't use medications without adult supervision.

Also, "the younger the girl, the older the guy" as the saying goes. Often young girls, 12, 13, 14, who are involved in sexual relationships are manipulated into them by much older males. OTC sales could make it easier for a predatory male to take advantage of a young girl whereas if Plan B remains by prescription only, there is more of an opportunity for a parent or doctor to get involved. Certainly minors should have more parental input into big life decisions such as whether or not to engage in sexual activity.

The claim that OTC availability might encourage greater promiscuity has merit also. Obviously, as a Christian I hold to the standard of keeping sex safely within marriage. That aside, one has to wonder if making it easier to not think through the consequences of sex before getting involved is a good idea, especially with over thirty sexually transmitted diseases rampant in our country. Something that makes it easier to rationalize unprotected sex might have the consequence of increasing the spread of STDs. Condoms cannot even protect against all of them, but they can help.

Another concern over the drug itself, prescription or not, cannot be assuaged. According to NIH:
Emergency contraception has several potential effects on a woman's reproductive system that could help to decrease her risk of getting pregnant. Emergency contraceptive drugs appear to work primarily by preventing or delaying egg release (ovulation) from the ovaries. They may also slow egg or sperm transport in the fallopian tubes, and they may make the uterine lining less hospitable for implantation of a pregnancy...(Emphasis mine.)
Catholics will probably have problems with all three methods by which this drug works. Protestants, on the other hand, will have a concern mostly over the last manner of effectiveness which could cause a fertilized and growing embryo to be unable to adhere to the uterine lining and to be flushed out at the next menstrual cycle. I won't attempt to discuss the Muslim view of how to handle unprotected sex here. (On behalf of my Catholic friends I would say that while at one time I thought their position was overblown, after reading more about their views, I would say they have a much stronger case than I had thought and that the widespread availability of contraceptives, as they predicted, has greatly increased abortion and illegitimacy rates in numbers previously unimaginable rather than abated them.)

On the other hand, NIH points out in its online article that morning-after pills can be useful in cases in which a condom or diaphragm fail to perform as intended or in cases of rape in which the woman had no access to birth control, to say the least. Especially, in that last case, morning-after pills, although not 100% effective, could be a great good. However, the question at this time is not the permissibility of such drugs but their OTC/prescription status. And with less than 100% effectiveness, easier access could, in fact, lead to more illegitimacy and abortions if easier availability encourages more risky behavior. (Of course, it offers no protection whatsoever against STDs.)

Maybe the government should leave them prescription only, just like birth control pills.

H/t: Jokers to the Right

See the NIH link for a fuller description of the drug in question, its uses and its risks.


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