A year ago, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was poised to undo the damage done by the Bush Administration, which for political reasons held up over-the-counter approval of Emergency Contraception (EC) for years. The FDA was charged with examining the best scientific evidence and after doing so, it decided to allow EC to be sold over the counter, without a prescription, to people of all ages. However, at the last moment, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled the FDA, maintaining the requirement that women under 17 obtain a prescription for EC.
The National Partnership strives to ensure that all women have access to quality, comprehensive health care based on medical need. We know that politics has no place in medicine. And in this case, the evidence clearly shows that EC over the counter is safe and that even younger teens are able to use it safely.
Young women facing possible unplanned pregnancies because of missed birth control, contraceptive failure or sexual assault need quick and easy access to EC, not unnecessary obstacles put in their way. As I said at the time, “women and girls are at risk for unintended pregnancies every day. Creating barriers that impede and deny access to a safe, time-sensitive medication that helps prevent unintended pregnancy solves nothing.”
The medical community agrees. Last month, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a recommendation that pediatricians discuss EC with their patients and provide them with prescriptions for the drug so they are prepared in advance.
The HHS decision was aimed at teens, but it hurts all women. Because of this restriction, all women must have government-issued identification and find a pharmacy open and willing to provide EC when they need it, rather than simply being able to pick it up at any time off the shelf. And those restrictions, like all ID requirements, fall most heavily on those who are marginalized.
The Obama Administration has made great and hugely commendable strides in improving women’s access to health care, including contraception, through the Affordable Care Act. But a year after the HHS decision, women continue to lack full access to necessary and basic health care. We call on HHS to reconsider this decision, look again at the scientific evidence, and work to ensure that all women who need it have timely and private access to EC.