Monday, April 8, 2013

New York Judge Rules for Expanded Access to Plan B

Friday was a good day for reproductive rights. On April 5th, Judge Edward R. Korman of the Eastern District of New York ruled that the Plan B (a popular emergency contraceptive) be made available over-the-counter for consumers of all ages, reports the New York Times. The ruling gave the Food and Drug Administration 30 days to comply. He condemned a 2011 decision by Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius, which blocked over-the-counter sale of Plan B to those under the age of 17 (more here).

In a memorandium on the case, Judge Korman observed that "this case involves the constitutional right to obtain and use contraceptives," observing that "restriction on the sale of time-sensitive levonorgestrel-based contraceptives to pharmacies and health clinics, which affects all women, implicates this right." He lambasted Secretary Sebelius' 2011 decision as "unreasonable" and "arbitrary".
"The decisions of the Secretary with respect to Plan B One-Step and that of the FDA with respect to the Citizen Petition, which it had no choice but to deny, were arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable ... As I have previously observed, the obstructions in the path of those adolescents in obtaining levonorgestrel-based emergency contraceptives under the current behind-the-counter regime have the practical effect of making the contraceptives unavailable without a doctor’s prescription. Consequently, the decision of the FDA denying the Citizen Petition is reversed, and the case is remanded to the FDA with the instruction to grant the Citizen Petition and make levonorgestrel-based emergency contraceptives available without a prescription and without point-of-sale or age restrictions within thirty days."
As with any major decision regarding women and girls' control over their wombs, the Religious Right is loudly weighing in. Cue the usual ugly accusations against emergency contraception!

In an April 5th press release, Anna Higgins, director of the Center for Human Dignity at the Family Research Council, criticized the decision. Higgins claimed that girls and young women could be given Plan B against their will. (See www[dot]frc[dot]org/newsroom/family-research-council-plan-b-ruling-disregards-serious-health-concerns)
"There is a real danger that Plan B may be given to young girls, under coercion or without their consent. The involvement of parents and medical professionals act as a safeguard for these young girls.  However, today's ruling removes these commonsense protections."
Concerned Women for America wasted no time in condemning the decision. In an April 5th press release, CEO Penny Nance called the decision a "social experiment" on girls' bodies, claiming that the measure would place "politics over the health and well-being of our kids." Concerned Women for America director Janice Shaw Crouse called emergency contraception medications "high-potency drugs", insisting that political and financial gains were behind the decision. (See www[dot]cwfa[dot]org/content.asp?id=22132)
"Once again, those who yell the loudest about caring about the nation's children and youth are using our kids in a special interest experiment. Plan B, popularly called the "morning-after pill" is a much-higher-dosage version of the regular birth control pill (which used to require a doctor's prescription and continued doctor's supervision). It is irresponsible to advocate over-the-counter use of these high-potency drugs, which would make them available to anyone - including those predators who exploit young girls.

This is a political decision, made by those who stand to profit financially from an action that puts ideology ahead of the nation's girls and young women. Where is the scientific data and solid reasoning behind a decision that endangers minors?"
Writing at the Catholic View for Women, Priests for Life executive director Janet Morana called the decision "misguided", insisting that it constituted an "assault on parental rights". In a bizarre twist, she claimed that universal over-the-counter access to emergency contraception with teach boys that their sexual actions have no consequences, thereby leading to more rape (!?). (See www[dot]thecatholicviewforwomen[dot]com/blog/index.php/judges-ruling-on-morning-after-pill-puts-teenagers-at-risk)
"It is yet another boon for boys. Instead of teaching boys and young men to respect women, to understand that “No” means “No,” we are telling them that actions no longer have consequences, that whatever has been done can be undone. Will this ruling lead to more date rape? I think it will."
Actually, a study published in a 2005 issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology found that increased access to emergency contraception was not correlated with greater risk of unwanted sexual activity among adolescents.

New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms resorted to the fear mongering and the tired argument that emergency contraception is an alleged "abortifacient", ignoring evidence that Plan B does not abort existing pregnancies. In an April 5th press release, New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms executive director Jason J, McGuire makes ominous claims about EC but cites no sources for his claims. (See www[dot]nycf[dot]info/component/content/article/37-home-page-items/738-new-york-federal-judge-directs-fda-to-make-emergency-contraception-available-to-minors)
“The U.S. District Court’s decision in this case is troubling on several levels. First, the court dismissed the question of whether so-called emergency contraceptives (EC) act as abortifacients, while conceding that there is no definitive research answering that question one way or the other. In so doing, the court sidestepped a key issue regarding the safety of these drugs, as well as their appropriate level of availability. Second, the court also declined to address certain health and safety consequences of EC. EC has been linked to an increased risk of future ectopic pregnancies in women, and research has shown a correlation between increased EC availability and frequency of STD infections.”
Actually, a study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology showed that emergency contraception access had no adverse effect on STD infection risk. Similarly, study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 2009 found that emergency contraception use among young women did not significantly predict STD infection. If right-wing voices are going to make bold claims, they really need to start backing them up with evidence.

McGuire continued his fear mongering, alleging that predatory men would give EC to underage victims to eliminate pregnancies.
"Making EC available over-the-counter would allow men who have committed statutory rape to purchase EC and offer it to young girls that they have impregnated in order to conceal their crime. It would also allow predators to make EC a part of a date-rape cocktail.”
Once again, the Religious Right is painting women's reproductive freedom in ominous colors. Without citing any evidence, voices from the Religious Right have made outrageous claims about Plan B access for teens, alleging that it will result in everything from sexual assault to ectopic pregnancies to disease. The fact that emergency contraception prevents unwanted pregnancies and all of the potential health problems and life disruptions that come with them is not considered. The fact that emergency contraception prevents unwanted pregnancies among rape victims and all of the potential traumas it can exacerbate is not considered. As usual.

If the Religious Right would stop spouting anti-contraceptive propaganda for a moment, it would discover that emergency contraception is an important boon for girls and women. According to the CDC, approximately one in nine women ages 15-44 have used emergency contraception, suggesting that the need for Plan B is real. Timely access to emergency contraception will help prevent unwanted pregnancies and give women and girls greater control over their reproductive lives. Friday's decision could be a step toward greater reproductive justice in the U.S.

For rape victims, emergency contraception access is crucial, whether they receive it as part of a forensic exam or seek it out on their own. The results of a study published in 2012 in the Journal of Forensic Nursing suggests that emergency contraception might even play a role in reducing post-traumatic stress symptoms among sexual assault victims. Among populations dealing with high rates of sexual assault, improved emergency contraception access can be vitally important. Friday's decision, in short, is relevant to the fight against sexual violence as well.

Whether the ruling will be disputed remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: the fight for contraception access is far from over.


  1. It is good news, though I am sure it will be appealed. The fight to get the government out of bedrooms won't be over for a long time.

    1. Chiefy -- Welcome! The struggle will be a long one, no doubt, but I'm relieved when I learn of gains like this.

  2. I'm happy to see this one. Less unwanted pregnancies mean less abortions.

    1. Sherry -- Aye. I wish more anti-abortion people would realize that supporting contraception access would help reduce the need for abortion.

  3. Crazy talk. Especially the "boon for boys" argument. -- No problem if she says "no." She can always take that pill in the morning. -- That's one I hadn't heard. (sigh)

    1. Donna -- They make the most bizarre arguments you can imagine!

  4. Always nice to see things headed in a good direction. :)

  5. What is with the argument about rapists giving EC to their victims. Why would a rapist care if his victim gets pregnant? I think it is fair to assume that he doesn't care about the woman at all if he's raping her. If this is their argument it just shows how terrible their position is.

    1. Hausdorff -- It's all scare tactics. They'll demonize Plan B any way they can.


All comments are subject to moderation. Threatening, violent, or bigoted comments will not be published.