Changes to Plan B pill cause great confusion and debate


Daniella Philipson, Features Editor

The concept of birth control is nothing new.  Humanity has been searching for effective birth control since the 1920s, when researchers discovered that hormonal imbalances could prevent pregnancy.

It wasn’t until 1997, however, that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first morning-after pill for the purpose of preventing pregnancy.

Pills such as Plan B have always been on the political radar and have come under fire yet again after an April 5 ruling at a Brooklyn court stated that the United States government is required to make the “morning-after” contraception pill available over the counter.  The decision, coveted by many women’s rights activists for decades, removes the previous requirement for women under the age of 17 to have a prescription.

The FDA had previously recommended that the pill be sold over the counter, but was overruled by the Obama administration.  Despite the judge’s rulings, Plan B, a brand of the morning-after pill, will not be available over the counter to women of all ages, a ruling that will prevail until at least the end of May.

On May 13, the Obama administration requested a stay of order and until a final decision is reached, the pill will be sold without a prescription for women and girls 15 years or older.

Since the Plan B falls under some tricky territory, it should come as no surprise that the Obama administration is backtracking from the Brooklyn court’s ruling.  During last year’s presidential election, the Plan B pill frequently reared its head as a topic for debate, with conservatives such as Mitt Romney calling it an “abortion pill.”

Before America can have a serious conversation about emergency contraception like Plan B, we need to know the facts.

What is Plan B and how does it work?

Plan B prevents pregnancy through hormones, similar to how regular birth control pills work.  Both pills use the progestin hormone levonorgestrel, but Plan B contains a higher dose.  The hormone pills work to delay or prevent ovulation altogether, like a regular birth control pill.  Women using Plan B need to be aware of their menstrual cycles.  Once a woman has ovulated, Plan B will no longer work.  Since the hormones only work to prevent ovulation, once it has already occurred the pills are ineffective.

So, does Plan B cause abortions?

No. Despite the fact that the labels on the Plan B box advertises the drug as one that may block a fertilized egg from implanting itself, an investigation done by The New York Times last year found that the science is inconsistent with the information on labels.  All Plan B does is prevent or delay ovulation so that there is no egg in the fallopian tube to be fertilized in the event of unprotected sex; the pill in no way prevents an already fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus.  While an “abortion pill” does exist (mifepristone, or RU-486) in many states it requires the permission of a parent or guardian for those under the age of 18.

Who can buy Plan B?

As of now, according to the new FDA policy, anyone 15 or older can purchase Plan B without a prescription.  However, a federal judge is demanding that the Obama administration drop the age requirement altogether, a fight that has been going on since 2003, when a Plan B manufacturer first sought to sell the product over the counter.

So, if plan B does not cause abortions, what is all of the fuss about?

Well, many people, both liberal and conservative, are concerned that making an emergency contraceptive such as the Plan B morning-after pill more widely available to teenagers, will lead to a more casual attitude about sex.  The last thing adults want is for teenage unprotected sex and unwanted pregnancies.

Much of the Schreiber student body, however, disagrees that selling Plan B over the counter will lead to a more nonchalant attitude about sex.

Earlier this month, President Obama stated that he supports the FDA’s desire to allow the sale of Plan B to women ages 15 or older, but many women’s rights advocates are concerned that the effort does not go far enough.  The question of girls under 15, remains unresolved.

“Honestly, people are not going to have more sex just because there is yet another birth control option available.  I am just glad that it may potentially be available for people who need to use it without a prescription.  Just becase you mess up, it does not mean that you should be punished for your mistake if pregnancy is not something that you want or are ready for,” said junior Cameron Appel.

“I think that most teenagers that are accessing Plan B are demonstrating a sense of responsiblity when it comes to their sexual health.  They are acknowledging that ‘Plan A’ didn’t work, and are taking measures to respect their own bodies and personal decisions.  I do not think that teenagers and young adults will treat their decisions related to sex any differently as a result of this prevention drug going over the counter,” said Health teacher Ms. Janine Kalinowski.

Until the courts make their final decision, the circumstances regarding Plan B are still unclear.  Many people, on both ends of the political spectrum, worry that selling Plan B over the counter will lead to a more lenient attitude towards teenage sex.

“Even with the most responsible people making the most responsible decisions, mistakes happen.  You can’t let something like that get in the way of your life.  I don’t think that Plan B should be your method of birth control and you shouldn’t rely on it, but it’s an option when you need it,” said senior Ellie Zolotarev.

The way people view sex has already changed dramatically and will continue to change.  Making a birth control pill over the counter can only make it safer.  This change has resulted from the wide availability of birth control and adding more birth control will only project this trend,” said junior Nisha Nanda.