April 6, 2013

Maine parents support morning-after pill ruling

A federal judge says the 17-or-older age restriction on sales of the pill is 'arbitrary' and 'capricious.'

By Noel K. Gallagher ngallagher@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Local parents say they support a federal court ruling Friday that would allow girls of any age to purchase the morning-after pill without a prescription. They just hope their own daughters never find themselves facing that decision alone.

Today's poll: Pill

Do you agree with the ruling that requires the FDA to make Plan B available to everyone regardless of age?

Yes

No

View Results

20130405_NextChoice
click image to enlarge

This Friday, April 5 photo shows a package of Next Choice, a morning-after birth-control pill that approved by a judge for girls of all ages.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

U.S. District Judge Edward Korman of New York ruled that federal age restrictions on sales of Plan B One-Step, one of the most common forms of the morning-after pill, are "arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable." He ordered the Food and Drug Administration to lift the restriction within 30 days.

That means consumers of any age could buy emergency contraception over the counter, rather than having to first prove they're 17 or older. Currently, a girl younger than 17 years old needs a prescription.

"You'd hope your child would come and talk to you about that, but that's not everyone's situation," said Susana Dela-Pena as she played with her 4-year-old daughter at a Portland park Friday afternoon. "There are two sides to everything."

Her friend Joanne Leo was a teenage parent herself. She said she supported the judge's decision, but hoped her children would come to her to discuss an issue that important.

"I was so scared to tell my parents, but I did," said Leo, who has a 22-year-old son, a 15-year-old son and an 18-month-old girl. "You definitely don't want them taking something like that without knowing about it. I'd hope she would come to me, and not be taking a pill and seeing what happens."

The morning-after pill contains a higher dose of the female progestin hormone than regular birth control pills do -- it prevents ovulation or fertilization of an egg. Taking it within 72 hours of intercourse can cut the chances of pregnancy by up to 89 percent, but it works best if taken within the first 24 hours. If a woman already is pregnant, the pill has no effect.

Half of the nation's pregnancies every year are unintended, according to The Associated Press. Doctors' groups say more access to morning-after pills -- by putting them near the condoms and spermicides so people can learn about them and buy them quickly -- could cut those numbers. They see little risk in overuse, as the pills cost $40 to $50 apiece.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, which filed suit against the age restriction, and other groups have argued that politics have driven decisions to hold contraceptives to a different -- and nonscientific -- standard than other drugs.

REACTION IN WATERVILLE

In Waterville, reaction to the news was mostly positive.

Dariana Garcia, 19, held her infant son on a bench beside a deteriorating basketball court in Waterville's South End. She took the morning-after pill herself a couple of years ago. Garcia said that when she was a high school student living with her parents she was ill-prepared for the rigors of parenthood.

"I was young," she said. "I wasn't ready."

For her, waiting those extra couple of years to have a child meant she could be a better parent.

"I had no money then," she said. "Now I have money. I can take care of my responsibility."

Garcia said she knew of people as young as 11 having sex, and that age shouldn't be a factor in access to the morning-after pill.

"It should be for all girls," she said. "It's a safety issue."

Standing nearby was Lorna Hubbard, a 34-year-old who said she wished she had access to the pill when she was younger. As a teenager, Hubbard said, she was forced to abort a pregnancy because of health reasons. If she had had access to the morning-after pill, she could have avoided the trauma of having an abortion, she said.

(Continued on page 2)

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Today's poll: Pill

Do you agree with the ruling that requires the FDA to make Plan B available to everyone regardless of age?

Yes

No

View Results