Emergency Contraception Restrictions Overturned!

This morning, Judge Edward Korman of the District Court of Eastern New York overturned the Obama administration’s ban on allowing women under age 17 to purchase emergency contraception without a prescription. Judge Korman has ordered the FDA to make Plan B available over the counter to all women “within thirty days.”

In late 2011, the administration overruled a decision by the FDA to allow teenage girls to purchase Plan B without a prescription. The administration’s move came as a surprise and was blasted for being politically motivated. In the decision released today, Judge Korman seemed to agree with that assessment, writing that the restriction was “a strong showing of bad faith and improper political influence … The decisions of the Secretary with respect to Plan B One-Step…were arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable.” (The full decision can be read here.)

Plan B has been available to women ages 17 and older without a prescription, and to younger women that have a prescription. But keeping the medication behind pharmacy counters meant that women could only buy the pill when the pharmacy was open, and many pharmacies are closed on evenings and weekends. Since Plan B is most effective if taken within 72 hours of having unprotected sex, such delays matter. Women have also reported encountering pharmacists that refused to sell them Plan B, because the medication violated their own personal beliefs.

Today’s decision is great news, and a great way to start the weekend!

No Better Time for Plan B

I have a package of Potassium Iodide tablets in my Go Bag, and I’m happy most days not to think about either, but I feel better knowing that they’re there. For those of you unfamiliar with either, or both–Potassium Iodide protects the thyroid from radiation poisoning, and a Go Bag is an emergency preparedness kit with enough supplies for a person to survive without outside help for at least three days.

If you didn’t know, consider yourself lucky. Or blissfully ignorant. I suppose it’s all a matter of perspective. That–and what the future happens to bring to yours.

Me, I decided back in the days of the dirty bomb scares that I’d rather have a package of ominously-packaged pills in the house than to one day wish I had bought some as an invisible deadly force fried my body. Same goes for the Go Bag. I put the pills in the bag, put the bag behind the couch, and honestly, including today, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve thought about either in the past ten years.

Isn’t that how worst case scenario preparation should work? Prepare for the worst, hope for the best, and try not to scare the bejesus out of yourself in the meantime. Anything less would be irresponsible when it’s a matter of life and death, right?

[Read more...]

Good News in New York

Teens at thirteen New York City high schools have had access to emergency contraception for over a year–but it wasn’t news until the New York Post got wind of it in an “exclusive” report on Sunday. In other words, the program did not make any of its critics’ wildest fears come true. No crazy rise in teenage sexual shenanigans. No rash of teens stricken with any of Plan B‘s side effects, real or imagined. The Post and fair-weather parental advocates like Cardinal Timothy Dolan would never have passed up the opportunity to fan even the slightest concern into a full-blown controversy.

Now the belated hand wringing has begun, and as long as the schools keep following the state law that allows doctors to prescribe emergency contraception pills to women fourteen or older without parental consent–yes, once again, New York state is ahead of the curve–I don’t mind in the least.

Okay, maybe I do mind, but I can also hope that the special provision included to protect parental rights (how I want to put quotations around that phrase), will force the parents who are really only fighting for the right not to think about teenage sexuality at all, to consider the possibility that their child may have the same feelings that have been making adolescents infamous for ages, even if only for the moment it takes them to ”opt-out” of the program. Best case scenario, it starts an honest dialogue between parent and child. Worst case scenario, at least the child knows where his or her parent stands, if and when the poor kid needs to talk to a grown-up.

Elsewhere in New York state, the news in teenage reproductive health hasn’t been good. A recent investigation by the NYCLU revealed “glaring inaccuracies about basic anatomy, reinforced negative gender stereotypes, and stigmatized LGBT students and families” in Sex Ed classes statewide. In one district, the ignorance reaches Todd Akin proportions: definition of vagina–”a sperm deposit.” No word on whether it shuts down or not. (Maybe it has bankers’ hours? Get it?)

I have every sympathy in the world for parents, and the argument about school nurses needing a parent’s permission to dispense Tylenol is at least as old as I am. But I’m still pretty sure teenage girls don’t use Tylenol (or aspirin, anywhere) to prevent pregnancy. (“Not now, I have a headache,” comes much later.) Maybe today’s parents are less hung-up about sex than my parents were back in the day. It wouldn’t take much. But I have a hard time believing even the coolest parents in the world have figured out how to make their children believe they’re always “easy to talk to” about sex. (I’d be impressed and probably a little creeped out, but I wouldn’t believe.) I’m too uptight to say I think the taboos we have about sex are a good thing; but I do think they’ve survived thousands of years because they’re powerful. If loosey goosey New Yorkers with all their culturally elite street cred can still get tongue-tied–or willfully blind–about teens and sex, I, for one, am glad city teens have professional health care providers looking out for them while their parents work out their feelings.


Political Science: Plan B and the Implantation Debate

Want to know how effective a bully the anti-abortion lobby is these days? When it comes to labeling emergency contraception pills, the Italian equivalent of the FDA–yes, that Italy, home to the Pope and umpteen Catholics, where, in contrast to the U.S., it actually is illegal to use contraceptives that prevent implantation of a fertilized egg–is less timid. The Italians have accepted evidence the F.D.A has been reluctant to place on emergency contraception for years, even though there appears to be little doubt about its validity.

This week the New York Times reported that there is ample scientific evidence proving that emergency contraception such as Plan B and its generic equivalents does not prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg. It delays ovulation, which means it prevents the egg from meeting that sperm altogether. This of course negates the argument abortion opponents use to attack the medication, but why let a little truth get in the way of a good story about bad scientists and the bad women who love them?

The Times’ investigation shamed one federal health agency into admitting the truth: [Read more...]

FDA Must Lift Restrictions on Emergency Contraception

Since 2001, the FDA has dicked around with Emergency Contraception (EC), placing baseless restrictions on who can obtain it. But it looks like the walls are closing in on the FDA.

Although EC has been available — behind pharmacy counters with proof of ID — to those 18+ since 2006 and to those 17+ since 2009, it remains inaccessible for many. For example, women must approach the pharmacist and request EC; should the pharmacist’s religious beliefs conflict with providing Plan B, s/he may refuse to hand it over, under the protection of conscience clauses. And let’s not forget those under 17 who will be flat-out denied, and those (of any age) who simply can’t afford its high cost.

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Why is the FDA Stalling Plan B Access?

Today’s guest post comes to us from Ian Vandewalker, a Legal Fellow with the U.S. Legal Program at the Center for Reproductive Rights. Be sure to click on the link at the end of the post to take action and urge the FDA to approve Plan B for over-the-counter distribution.

Teva, the company that makes the morning-after pill Plan B One-Step, recently submitted an application to the FDA to make the drug available over-the-counter for women of all ages. Sound like a good thing? Well, it is and it isn’t.

Certainly any efforts to bring Plan B out from behind pharmacy counters and onto drugstore shelves – so women of all ages can purchase it – is positive, but the problem is… the FDA should have made emergency contraception fully available over the counter a long time ago.

Here’s some background explaining why, and why you should care:

The FDA’s been playing games with Plan B for almost a decade
Let’s not forget the Plan B-FDA saga started back in 2001 when the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a Citizen Petition with the FDA on behalf of over 70 medical and public health organizations to make Plan B available over-the-counter. In 2003, the drug’s manufacturers filed their own application for over-the-counter status. But the FDA, under the Bush administration, proceeded to drag out making a decision for years. The agency employed numerous stall tactics from missing application deadlines to requesting public comments. It wasn’t until the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a case against the FDA in 2005 for failing to make a decision, that the agency finally made a move… sort of. In 2006, the agency agreed to make the drug available without a prescription – but only to women 18 and older, only behind pharmacy counters and only when a woman showed photo I.D. [Read more...]

Plan B–Change the FDA

It’s been years. Literally.

After two change elections, why is the FDA playing the same old games with women’s health?

On March 23, 2009, a federal court ordered the FDA to make the emergency contraception drug Plan B available to women 17 and older without a prescription. It is ludicrous—if not criminal, for the FDA to have ignored this order.

That’s why the Center for Reproductive Rights has filed a motion of contempt against the Food and Drug Administration. Maybe the FDA can be shamed into obeying the law. 

Maybe the FDA can be shamed into following its own experts’ advice. Remember, when President Obama came into office, he promised his administration would “ make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.” 

Well,  “all of the scientific facts are there and FDA experts agree—emergency contraception has proven safe and effective to be sold over-the-counter to all ages,” according to Suzanne Novak, lead counsel in the case. [Read more...]

Dear Margaret Sanger

Dear Margaret Sanger,

Happy birthday! Have I told you lately how awesome you were, how much I appreciate the work you dedicated your life to?

I have two children Ms. Sanger, and while I love them I also know I’m not mentally capable of having any more. Because of you, I can grab a box of condoms while I’m doing the regular grocery shopping (they’re one aisle over from the toothpaste), no fuss, no questions, no disapproving looks.

[Read more...]

FDA Advisory Panel Backs New Morning After Pill

An FDA advisory panel voted unanimously to to approve a new version of the “morning after pill.” The new form of emergency contraception, will be sold under the brand name of “ella,” and it can be taken up to 5 days after sexual intercourse.

Ella is already being used in Europe. The women who took ella (also know as UPA) in the clinical trials had a higher success rate than those who took the current FDA-approved option, Plan B. The emergency contraception that is currently available in the U.S. as an over-the-counter product, works most effectively in the first 3 days after unprotected intercourse by preventing ovulation. By comparison, ella has proven to be equally effective throughout the 5 days after unprotected intercourse.

Ella is not an abortion pill. UPA, like other forms of emergency, delays ovulation and will not cause an abortion. It’s important to remember that the medical definition of pregnancy is when a fertilized egg (sperm and egg) implants into the uterus. UPA prevents fertilization by suppressing ovulation.

As of today, ella will only be available by prescription. However, more studies are being conducted to prove ella’s effectiveness for over-the-counter distribution. The FDA’s final vote for approval will happen in July or August.

For more information about ella, check out this story from NPR.

Could I Be Pregnant?!

This week’s safer sex question:

I’m 17 and very worried that I may be pregnant. I’ve been taking Loestrin 24fe for about 3 months now, and I have a steady boyfriend. I’ve never fully had unprotected sex, but sometimes we use a form of the withdrawal method (but only for about a minute or so). Otherwise, we always use condoms also. Today, I got really bad cramps and pretty heavy spotting (I’m not supposed to get my period until next week). I looked it up online, and I found many sites that talked about implantation and how spotting is normal during early pregnancy. I don’t usually miss pills, but I have missed one or two in the past. Should I be worried that I may be pregnant?

Thank you for sending your question, I can hear your anxiety and worry. Even though your concern is a very common experience for many women, it doesn’t make experiencing it any less stressful. Let me begin with a little bit of a disclaimer, I am not a doctor or medical professional and anything I offer here as a response is educational rather than diagnostic. [Read more...]