In December of 2011, the FDA was prepared to make emergency contraception accessible to consumers without restriction, based on more than a decade of medical research and policy debates. Instead, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled the FDA, putting politics ahead of women’s health. Her decision created unnecessary confusion for women and couples at a moment when clarity and timing matter most. EC works best when taken within 72 hours and her ruling means women, men and teens who want to take steps to prevent an unplanned pregnancy face unnecessary obstacles. People who don’t have government issued ID may have difficulty obtaining the product. Men have been denied access as some pharmacists impose their personal beliefs on consumers. Doctors have been given misleading or false information when calling pharmacies on behalf of teen patients. These obstacles would be far less likely to occur if EC were on pharmacy shelves next to condoms.
Despite Secretary Sebelius’ December 2011 decision, no evidence suggests that making emergency contraception accessible leads to risky behavior among teens. What it does do is give teens a second chance to prevent and unintended pregnancy so they can stay in school. Medical experts, from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to the New England Journal of Medicine, a former U.S. Surgeon General, and many others agree EC should be on-the-shelf and accessible without restriction.
Emergency contraception is a safe, effective back-up method of birth control that can prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex or contraceptive failure. A woman is healthiest when she can decide the timing and spacing of her pregnancies. Let’s ensure that any woman who needs EC can get it safely and quickly.
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