Emergency contraception must be readily available

Health care professionals and reproductive health advocates were dismayed last December when Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius ruled to restrict access to Plan B, an emergency contraceptive pill effective at preventing unintended pregnancy.

When he first took office, President Obama professed a commitment to base decision-making on science rather than ideology. Since the president won a solid victory in last month’s election, in no small part due to women’s and young people’s votes, it’s time to revisit this ill-advised policy choice.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, three of four teen births are the result of unintended pregnancy. Teen pregnancies are at higher risk for dangerous and expensive medical complications for newborn and mother. Children of teen mothers have a higher incidence of arrest and incarceration, drug and alcohol abuse, dropping out of school and becoming teen parents themselves. Teen mothers are far more likely to experience poverty in their lives, and to have second and third unintended pregnancies, resulting in more abortions.

Teens have sex, sometimes spontaneously, and thanks to the general inadequacy of sex education programs in our schools, it is often with little planning or forethought. What good does it do to restrict access to contraception, making it more difficult for them to act responsibly by taking steps to avoid an unwanted, life-altering pregnancy?

Proven safe and effective, emergency contraception is FDA-approved for women of all ages and has been used successfully worldwide for decades. There is no justifiable reason, medical, social or otherwise, to restrict access to emergency contraception. The Obama administration should not wait for the courts to reverse its decision, and act to expand access to emergency contraception without delay.

James Hufnagel