With New Ruling on Plan B, it’s Time to Focus on Plan A

What a 10-year-old girl needs to know if emergency contraception's next to bubblegum at CVS.

On Friday, a federal judge overturned an Obama administration decision to restrict access to emergency contraception to young women and girls under the age 17 without a prescription. The ruling, made by Judge Edward Korman, instructs the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to lift the ban within 30 days.

“This case has proven to be particularly controversial,” Judge Korman said, “because it involves access to emergency contraception for adolescents who should not be engaging in conduct that necessitates the use of such drugs and because of the scientifically unsupported speculation that the drug could interfere with implantation of fertilized eggs.”

Whether or not teen girls should be engaging in sexual activity is a separate issue, and the facts remain: Teenagers have sex.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 13 percent of teens have had sex by age 15; by their 19th birthday, seven in 10 teens have had intercourse.

And frighteningly, seven percent of young women aged 18 to 24 who have had sex before age 20 report that their first sexual experience was non-voluntary, which, if the sexual encounter was unprotected, makes the ability to buy emergency contraception over the counter a little like buying peace of mind.

Moralizing the issue of teen sex does not help to keep teens safe. It does not serve to educate them about how to make responsible decisions when it comes to their sexuality, increasing the likelihood of contracting HIV/AIDS, an STI, or having an unplanned pregnancy.

Teen pregnancy remains a significant contributor to high-school drop-out rates among girls, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The comparison statistics are telling: About 50 percent of teen mothers receive a high-school diploma by 22 years of age, versus approximately 90 percent of women who had not given birth during adolescence.

Now that Plan B is on the books, it’s time to reconfigure Plan A. We owe it to our girls to have honest dialogue with them, not only about sex, but their sexuality.

Comprehensive sexual education offers a safe space for teens to talk openly about their bodies, contraception and the risks without fear or judgment. The disaster prevention approach to educating teenagers about sex ignores the nuances of human sexuality, and the realities both of teen behavior and intelligence.

Much like the birth-control pill a generation before, Plan B is another hallmark in the modernization of female reproduction, empowering women to decide for themselves when they will become pregnant. That remains a revolutionary idea.

President Obama endorsed the decision to restrict access to emergency contraception for young women under 17, citing that Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, “could not be confident that a 10-year-old or an 11-year-old going into a drugstore should be able—alongside bubble gum or batteries—be able to buy a medication that potentially, if not used properly, could end up having an adverse effect.”

By providing comprehensive sexual education, that same 10-year-old or 11-year-old could go into a drugstore confidently, understanding that while all of these products are now available to her, only the bubblegum and batteries are child’s play.