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Editorial: Uneasy but necessary mix: girls and the Pill

This frame grab from video shows box Plan B morning after pill.

This frame grab from video shows a box of Plan B morning after pill.

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Updated: June 3, 2013 3:18PM

No decision that features the words birth control, young girls and pregnancy is ever an easy one.

But the Food and Drug Administration this week came pretty close to getting it right with new rules for the sale of the morning-after pill. The emergency contraception pill will be made available over-the-counter and to anyone 15 and older with identification.

Until now, the Plan B One-Step pill — which can prevent pregnancy after intercourse and is not an “abortion pill,” despite claims otherwise by anti-abortionists — was available without a prescription only for ages 17 and up. It was kept behind the pharmacy counter, limiting access during off hours.

The FDA’s move is an important step forward in the effort to prevent unwanted pregnancies, which account for about half of all pregnancies in this country.

It also gets close to what the FDA has long intended: The agency in 2011, finding that the pill was safe and effective, said it should be available without age restriction. The agency was overruled by the Obama administration, which set the age 17 limit.

The administration was sued and a judge issued a damning opinion last month, saying the pill should be available to all and accusing the administration of putting politics before science. On Wednesday, the Obama administration appealed the judge’s order, making clear that it’s willing to ease access to the pill only a certain amount.

And that’s where things gets murkier. Do we want 10- to 14-year-old girls heading to CVS to buy the morning-after pill without a parent? Should we worry that wide access to an after-the-fact contraceptive will discourage protected sex? A recent Princeton review of studies on that topic helps quiet those fears.

On balance, broader access seems the right approach. Sexual activity is relatively rare for 10- to 14-year-olds. But for 10- to 12-year-olds it is more likely to be coerced, and for those under 14 more likely to happen without a contraceptive, according to an April study in the journal Pediatrics. These are probably the girls who need the morning-after pill the most.

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