Students for Choice passing out prescriptions for emergency birth control on the Diag may appear like nothing more than a publicity stunt, but it serves a far greater purpose at this University. While the pills in question – commonly known as Plan B – are no substitute for normal contraceptives, they do reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies and thus also the need for abortions. But despite the medical benefits and proven safety record of emergency contraception, availability of the pill has been limited for political agendas. The government must base its decisions on what is in the best interest of public health, not politics, and it should move to make the pill readily available without a prescription.
Repeated studies have shown that Plan B is most affective when taken within 24 hours of unprotected sex, which makes its easy availability extremely important. Currently, students must obtain prescriptions from doctors, which isn’t possible at all times, especially on weekends. Making the pill available over the counter constitutes no increased health risk because the pill is just a specialized dose of regular hormonal birth control medications.
The irresponsibility of politicians and the supposedly independent Food and Drug Administration regarding this issue is appalling. The FDA has refused to approve the drug for over-the-counter availability several times, despite numerous studies indicating no increased health risks compared to other contraceptive pills. Because of this, Dr. Susan Wood, former director of women’s health at the FDA, resigned last year, expressing frustration over the continued lack of urgency with which the agency has moved on this matter.
While speaking on campus last November, Wood said the FDA’s repeated calls for further testing on the drug were “a disregard of the science.” Such politicking on issues of health is not only irresponsible but also difficult to understand. According to Wood, many people equate the use of Plan B with abortion, a ludicrous connection. Even those opposed to abortion should support the easy availability of Plan B because it actually prevents ovulation and would thus reduce the need for abortions.
Students for Choice is to be commended for placing importance on women’s health and should continue its efforts until the government entities involved take notice and remove the unneeded hurdles to safe and beneficial drugs. But despite the group’s advocacy, the larger issue remains unaddressed. The FDA and state and federal legislators have done everything from dragging their feet to blatantly attacking women’s reproductive rights in their efforts to keep the pill out of women’s hands. They argue that widespread availability of emergency contraception will encourage promiscuous sexual activity and decrease the use of more reliable common contraceptives, but these assertions are patently absurd. Students don’t usually contemplate the contents of their pharmacist’s over-the-counter stock before they engage in unprotected sex and the government must realize how pointless it is to keep Plan B difficult to obtain.