Monday, April 8, 2013

Morning-after pill to go over the counter, be available to girls of all ages

Story originally appeared on Freep.

A judge's ruling Friday that would allow women access to the morning-after pill without pharmacists or ID checks -- and, for teens younger than 17, now without a prescription -- could cut down on unintended pregnancies in Michigan, according to reproductive rights advocates.

"We are thrilled whenever there is further access to ensure women can have a baby when they want one and reduce the unintended pregnancy rate," said Lori Lamerand, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Mid and South Michigan.

But others said they worry the ruling could expose girls to sexually transmitted diseases and erode parents' abilities to protect their daughters.

In a tweet late in the day, the Michigan Catholic Conference called the opinion of U.S. District Judge Edward Korman in New York "complete disregard for children's safety and parental rights."

And earlier in the day, Deirdre McQuade, spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Secretariat for Pro Life Activities, said in a written statement that the pill "makes young adolescent girls more available to sexual predators."

"The court's action," the statement continued, "undermines parents' ability to protect their daughters from such exploitation and from the adverse effects of the drug itself."

On Friday, Korman struck down age restrictions on the emergency contraception sold as Plan B One-Step and its generic versions. He called the Obama administration's rule that limits Plan B to prescription-only for teens younger than 17 as "arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable."

Those restrictions must change within 30 days, Korman ruled.

Currently, the pill can be obtained through only family planning clinics or pharmacists. The ruling Friday means the pill can be moved from behind the counter at major drugstores or carried by convenience stores and round-the-clock supermarkets.

The pill prevents pregnancy with a high dose of hormones that prevent the release of an egg that could be fertilized. Side effects can include nausea, vomiting, cramping, menstrual changes and diarrhea.

It must be used within three days and is most effective when used immediately.

That means every hour counts -- a problem for women without access to a 24-hour pharmacist, for teens who must find a health care provider to write a prescription and for those living in the country illegally and others without ID, said Susannah Baruch, interim president and CEO of Washington-based Reproductive Health Technologies Project.

"We want (the pill) between the condoms and the pregnancy tests. That's where it belongs and (is available) when people need to access it," Baruch said.

One in 9 sexually active women in the U.S. ages 15 to 44, or about 5.8 million, had used emergency contraception at least once between 2006 and 2010, according to a report released in February by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Most had used it just once or twice, and it was most commonly used among those who were 20 to 24 years old, never married, Hispanic or non-Hispanic white women and those who attended college, according to report.

About half had used it because of unprotected sex; the other half used it as an extra precaution in case their first line of birth control failed.

Last year, Planned Parenthood's 17 southeast Michigan health centers dispensed 11,195 doses of emergency contraception. Just 6% of its patients last year were younger than 17, according to a spokeswoman.

The new ruling will make it easier for teens to protect themselves in an emergency, said Sarah Zimmerman, 17, a senior at Community High School in Ann Arbor and a peer educator with Planned Parenthood. In January, she met with parents and educators at an all-day conference sponsored by the Farmington Hills-based nonprofit Parent Action for Healthy Kids to discuss, in part, how to talk to kids about sex.

Most often, she said, teens who seek her advice tell her they need Plan B as backup protection after condoms broke, and most of them understand that it is "not the first method of birth control you want to be using," she said.

Zimmerman said most teens aren't on hormonal birth control such as oral contraceptives. Rather, they rely on condoms that are cheap and accessible through family planning clinics or at gas stations and other retail outlets.

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