Last week the Food and Drug Administration approved over-the-counter sales of the “morning–after” contraceptive pill to women 18 and older. This issue, which has long plagued the agency, is considered the most controversial decision in the FDA’s history. The University needs to take this opportunity to reevaluate its stance on the availability of birth control on the Hilltop.
Barr Laboratories, makers of the emergency contraception commonly known as Plan B, have agreed to restrict availability to pharmacies and health clinics where women must provide proof of age. Women under 18 will still need a prescription.
Plan B should be just that: a backup for when primary birth control methods fail, not for when they are ignored. However, with primary methods unavailable on Georgetown’s campus, women here are much more likely to bypass using condoms, making them also more likely than other women to abuse Plan B.
This change to over-the-counter availability is necessary because Plan B is only effective if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex. The drug’s efficiency declines 50 percent for every 12 hours waited to take the pill. When emergency contraception requires a prescription, it is practically useless for a woman whose condom breaks on a Friday evening and must wait until Monday morning to visit her doctor and begin her search for a pharmacy that stocks the drug; many still will not.
Plan B has stirred controversy for many reasons, the most common being strong opposition from anti-abortion activists and a basic misunderstanding of the drug. Contrary to common belief, Plan B is not an abortion drug like RU-486. It is contraception; with very high doses of ingredients common in oral contr aceptives, Plan B works similarly by preventing ovulation and fertilization. Rarely, Plan B can prevent a fertilized egg’s implantation, but common oral contraceptives do the same thing. Plan B, dubbed the “anti-abortion” pill, actually prevents abortions.
Another less publicized concern is the health effects of Plan B. As the name Emergency Contraception suggests, the pill should only be taken in real emergencies, such as when a condom breaks or when a woman is raped. Some worry that women will become careless and be more likely to have unprotected sex with new, easier access to the drug. However, Plan B is hard to readily abuse, due to a high price tag, nasty side effects which stem from the complete disruption of a woman’s menstrual cycle, and the nausea and vomiting high doses of hormones can cause.
Selling condoms and other contraceptives is not a mandate; it still leaves the choice up to the student. Students here, even—gasp!—Catholic ones, are having sex, and that’s not changing anytime soon. With the changing face of women’s health and rising rates of STDs, Georgetown must reconsider its archaic and irresponsible birth control policy and put its students’ health first.