By this summer, a 15-year-old girl will be able to walk into a drugstore, scan the shelves and purchase the morning-after pill without a prescription, a controversial national decision at the intersection of womens reproductive rights, parenting, sciences and the role and reach of government.
On Tuesday the Food and Drug Administration ordered retailers to offer the emergency contraceptive Plan B One-Step as an over-the-counter option the latest ruling in a long battle, both legal and social, about the rights of women to have access to the drug. Before now, the pill, which is used after sexual intercourse to help prevent pregnancy, was available to women ages 17 and older without a prescription, but the medication was kept behind drugstore counters.
The FDAs decision came weeks after a federal judge ordered that over-the-counter emergency contraception be made available to females of any age a ruling the Obama administration is appealing.
Even with many practical questions still unanswered and the specter of more court rulings looming, reaction has been passionate on both sides of the issue.
This is a policy issue that basically represents peoples core beliefs, says Nicole Ruggiano, an assistant professor of social work at Florida International Universitys Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work. This is about peoples beliefs about premarital sex, parenting, religion, right to life and those kinds of issues.
President Obama, visiting Mexico, said Thursday he was comfortable with the FDAs decision.
For some, this is a victory long in the making, empowering young sexually active women. Opponents, including those with strong religious beliefs, contend the decision is wrong, that 15-year-olds are too young to make such a sensitive decision, particularly without the consent of parents. They are also concerned about the elimination of safeguards provided by prescriptions that require a healthcare providers input.
And still for others, the decision is simply reflection of the realities of teenage sexual choices.
At 15, a child should not be having sex, but lets face it, they do, said Barry Stephenson, a Lauderhill father of four. I would agree with it in certain cases but definitely dont condone it in general because I think they are too young to make that kind of decision.
In April, New York U.S. District Judge Edward R. Korman ordered the FDA to make the emergency contraception available to females of any age, without a prescription. As part of the ruling in a federal lawsuit, Korman took the Obama administration to task for politicizing science by restricting access to the drug two years ago.
Unrelated to Kormans ruling, the FDA announced approval this week of manufacturer Tevas application to offer Plan B without a prescription for females 15 or older but the product will not be available in over-the-counter form until the summer, after inventory and packaging issues are worked out. Teens will be required to show proof of age.
On Wednesday, the Justice Department filed a notice it will appeal Judge Kormans ruling, which goes into affect on May 10. The Obama administration has asked the judge to delay his ruling until the appeal can be heard. The judge will hear oral arguments on Tuesday.