Emergency Contraception

Earlier this month, the FDA denied approval for over the counteravailability of Plan B, an emergency contraception drug also knownas the morning after pill, a decision that has some worried aboutthe affects this will have on women in need of emergencycontraception.

Used to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex or acontraceptive failure, Plan B consists of two pills (one takentwelve hours after the first) that contain the same hormones in abirth control pill. Contrary to the claims of some who oppose it,Plan B is not an abortive pill. Rather, it prevents ovulation,fertilization or implantation before a pregnancy ever occurs.

Only 61 percent of college and university based health clinicsoffer Plan B or prescriptions for it, and only 16 percent ofcollege and university based health clinics have weekend hours.PSU’s Health and Counseling Center is not part of that 16 percent.Plan B is available at PSU’s Health and Counseling Center however,which distributes about 300 packets of these pills a year (aboutone per business day).

This prevents the pill from being acquired if a female studenthas unprotected sex or a contraceptive failure on a Friday. She’llhave to wait until Monday to obtain a pill that, if obtainedearlier, offered her a higher chance of reducing the risk ofpregnancy.

Jay Keller, national field director of Population Connection, anational grassroots organization that educates and advocatesprogressive action to stabilize world population, says theemergency contraception decision is so disappointing because ittakes away another choice for women.

He added that despite studies that prove Plan B’s effectivenessand safety, the head of the FDA overruled the FDA’s panel ofscientists, physicians and public health professional’s majorityapproval of 23-4 to allow Plan B to be available over thecounter.

“It is a very sad day for America when political ideologyoverrules good science and public health practices,” a statement onthe Population Connection website declares.

Heather Smith, legislative affairs manager with PopulationConnection, says that the decision was influenced by the WhiteHouse and anti-abortion forces, who put pressure on the FDA toreject Barr Laboratories (the pharmaceuticals company that createdPlan B) application to make Plan B available over the counter.

The FDA says the decision was made on the grounds that BarrLaboratories had inadequately studied the effects Plan B had onwomen 14-16 years of age, and no studies had been conducted ongirls under the age of fourteen. They added that although thecommittee had approved over the counter availability, StevenGalson, the FDA’s Deputy Center Director, and some members wereconcerned that the data had insufficiently studied these youngerage groups.

Now Barr Laboratories has two avenues of choice tofollow: conduct studies on a younger age group or not allow Plan Bto be available to girls age 16 and under.

Either choice will have to go through a 12-month process; onceagain extending access to a pill that many feel should be madeavailable now.

Instead of promoting contraception the Bush administration’ssolution for reproductive health issues has been the “Just Say No”campaign. A campaign to educate students with abstinence only sexeducation, Just Say No is part of President Bush’s proposal for a100 percent increase for abstinence only education programs in theU.S to prevent the number of teen pregnancies and abortions fromrising.

Jean Knutson, a 31 year old government documents technician atPSU, says that we have enough history to know what happens whenpreventative measures aren’t available, adding that the “Just SayNo” campaign doesn’t work.

Smith argues the Bush administration affects the life issues ofwomen, and not in a good way. Abstinence only education programsaren’t the solution, according to Smith.

Smith argues that the state of Minnesota, which receives federalmoney from the Bush administration for abstinence programs,conducted a study that found that sexual activity had doubled sinceabstinence education was introduced in the state.

Studies show that young people who receive instruction thatincludes both abstinence and contraception/STD prevention waitlonger to start having sex, have sex less frequently, and usecontraception more often then their peers.

Smith says the number of teen pregnancies has been going down,not because of abstinence programs, but because teens can go topublicly funded planning clinics.

Last week PSU held a public forum to discuss the impact theseadministration policies have on American women’s reproductiverights and the reproductive health rights of women and familiesworldwide.

Representatives from groups such as Population Connection,Planned Parenthood and Pathfinder International came to speak, aswell as Barbara Roberts, former Oregon governor.

As an advocate for family planning and reproductive rights,Roberts says that family planning is crucial and that globallyinvesting in family planning efforts will help promote healthypeople worldwide.

With one half of the world population under the age oftwenty-five, demand for reproductive rights is great and the needfor contraceptives and condoms is at its highest (due to thelargest number of young people moving into their reproductive yearsand population growth). But access to these products is becomingmore difficult.

According to Population Connection, this is because the secondday President Bush was in office he reinstated the Mexico CityPolicy (also known as the Global Gag Rule), forcing foreignnon-governmental organizations (a majority who receive money fromUSAIDS, the largest provider and donor of family planning andreproductive health in the developing world) that provide familyplanning services to either refuse to provide information about allreproductive options and give up the right to participate in legalpolicy debates or give up needed funds.

Supporters of emergency contraception say this lack ofinformation regarding reproductive services is reflective withinthe recent Plan B decision.

Caroline Fitchett, Director of NARAL/Pro Choice Oregon, saysaccess to contraception should not be dictated by governmentofficials, rather, it should be a decision between a woman and herdoctor.

“This is a fundamental battle about a woman’s right to choose,”she says, “and it’s a fundamental debate that has occurred eversince Roe v. Wade.”