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One year after FDA ruling on emergency contraception . . . confusion

Removing the age restrictions on some brands of emergency contraception will help improve access for some adolescents. But significant barriers remain.

First, a quick definition: emergency contraception is a birth control method that is used after intercourse to prevent conception. Plan B One Step and it's generic equivalents can be used up to 72 hours following unprotected sex but is more effective if taken sooner. Emergency contraceptives prevent pregnancy by delaying or inhibiting ovulation. For more information go to the Emergency Contraception website.

Some health care providers have tried to eliminate these problems by making emergency contraception available to teenagers for free. These efforts have been controversial. Several years ago, there was a huge furor over a pilot program in New York City public schools called Connecting Adolescents to Comprehensive Healthcare (CATCH), which gave emergency contraceptives to students who requested them. In accordance with state law, students could obtain emergency contraception and other birth control methods without telling their parents in community clinics and school-based health centers. Although parents were given the opportunity to opt out of the program, some parents were outraged, as were some conservatives. Mona Davids, president of the New York City Parents Union, said emergency contraceptive was too dangerous to give without parents' permission: "They can't even give our kids aspirin or Motrin without informed consent. This is a chemical hormonal drug cocktail." And Anne Leary, a conservative blogger from Chicago, said the measure was "ill-advised" and undermined parental authority. (Emergency contraception has never been available in Philadelphia public schools.)

Those of us over 17 should be concerned about this issue, and not just because it forces adolescents to accept the consequences of contraceptive failure that women over 18 don't have to face. The inconsistencies in age restrictions on various emergency contraceptive products have allowed opponents of emergency contraception an entering wedge in their efforts to eliminate this birth control option completely. Over the past two decades, pro-life groups have been able to whittle away at women's right to choose by first going after the most vulnerable groups. Women under 18 are an especially easy target because they can't vote. The age restriction on over-the-counter emergency contraception has allowed opponents to circulate misinformation about who can legally obtain the drug without a prescription.

We can't allow policy makers to sacrifice the needs of adolescent girls and divide reproductive health activists along generational lines. A threat to the rights of young women is a danger to us all.

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