When someone of any age has a headache, she doesn’t worry about carrying government issued identification to purchase over the counter pain medication, but thanks to the Department of Justice appealing a federal judge’s ruling allowing Emergency Contraception (EC), also known as Plan B or the Morning After Pill, to be sold over the counter with no age restrictions, anyone who wants to purchase EC must carry proof of age in the form of either a driver’s license, passport, or birth certificate. This is to make sure that no one under age 15 accesses EC. Anyone without an ID will be denied the medication. The FDA also approved changes the packaging of Plan B. Now it will include the statement, “not for sale to those under 15 years of age *proof of age required* not for sale where age cannot be verified,” and have a security tag to prevent theft or sale without identification.
While some touted the decision as a victory since it lowers the age of over the counter access from 17 and will be available in general pharmacy aisles, others are concerned that the new ruling does not go far enough and in fact negatively impacts some of the most vulnerable.
Jessica González-Rojas, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) expressed her disappointment via a statement released to the press,“It is frankly disappointing that the Administration has chosen to appeal this decision. As the judge in the case made clear, there is no compelling reason to place age restrictions or ID requirements on emergency contraception. Scientists and doctors have known for years that emergency contraception is safe and simple to use for all ages. Immigrant women and new citizens of all ages have will be especially hard hit by this ruling, since they are less likely to have a government issued id. This decision signifies another unnecessary barrier for many Latinas who need birth control. Latinas already face too many barriers like poverty, discrimination, and language access that prevent them from obtaining medical attention. Particularly for Latinas, expanding access to emergency contraception is critical in order to make the best decisions for our families and ourselves.”
Studies show that Latinas use emergency contraception at higher rates than others. One possible reason for this is the high cost of birth control pills and the high numbers of Latinos without health insurance. A 2009 study demonstrated that Spanish dominant individuals seeking EC in California faced specific barriers to access.
President Barack Obama said that he was “comfortable” with new federal regulations making emergency contraception available to women and girls over age 15, but stopped short of supporting universal access saying that more study was needed to determine the safety of such access for younger people.
The administration’s decision can be seen as a nod to some religious organizations, who have linked EC to abortion, despite studies that show otherwise. But not all religious organizations are pleased. Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, targeted President Obama in a statement released yesterday saying, “Both the FDA and the courts have agreed that there are no good reasons to restrict access to this safe method of contraception. Studies have shown that EC is safer than aspirin and that it is a vital part of our efforts to reduce unplanned pregnancy. Polls and social studies have shown that EC is widely supported and used by Catholics and non-Catholics alike. President Obama promised us science- and fact-based policies when he came into office. This promise has been broken by crass political calculations that have been allowed to trump reason and once again throw women under the bus. President Obama is playing politics with women’s health. He claims to be a defender of women’s rights. He is not.”