By TEDDYE SNELL
In a perfect world, mistakes would never happen, and everyone would exercise good judgment about health and safety at all times. Bad decisions would never be made, and crime would not exist.
But humans are – well, human. While most everyone understands unprotected sex can result in unwanted pregnancy or a sexually transmitted disease, the fact remains that not all people wear condoms or use birth control every time they have sex. Worse yet, rape and incest are a reality, and can also result in an unwanted pregnancy.
Since the 1960s, doctors and scientists have studied ways to use high doses of estrogen as a post-coital contraceptive. In 1999, the Food and Drug Administration approved the prescription drug Plan B emergency contraceptive. Since then, Plan B has moved from being available by prescription only to the FDA’s most recent decision, which allows the sale of Plan B without a prescription to anyone age 15 or over who can show proof of age, such as a driver’s license, birth certificate or passport, to a retail pharmacy clerk.
The April 30 FDA decision has fueled a debate on emergency contraception and the ability of minors to purchase it.
According to Jill Nobles-Botkin, director of perinatal and reproductive health for the Oklahoma State Department of Health, Plan B – or emergency contraception – will not affect a pregnancy.
“[The pill functions in two different ways] and depends on where in the cycle it’s taken,” said Nobles-Botkin. “It can either prevent ovulation, or it can thicken the cervical mucus so the sperm can’t get through. If a person is already pregnant, it will not terminate a pregnancy, no matter where in the cycle the woman is.”
The Oklahoma State Department of Health provides its clients, through county health department outlets, several different options for contraception.
“We have to, by federal regulations, provide a wide variety of contraceptive options, which includes emergency contraception,” said Jill Nobles-Botkin. “Plan B falls within that category.”
Contraceptives of all stripes are available through the state agency.
“We have nurse practitioners on site that provide prescriptions for Plan B,” said Nobles-Botkin. “We have it available to anyone of reproductive age, which is our policy, and will continue to provide it based on that. Also, as part of the requirements to receive federal funding, we educate clients on all aspects of reproductive health.”
As part of its Saturday Facebook Forum May 4, the Daily Press asked its “friends” their thoughts the FDA ruling, Plan B and its availability to minors. The question drew over 70 comments, and a lively debate ensued. Many people who commented are parents, including local resident Alan Barlow.
“I would rather my 15-year-old get pregnant than take it, especially without my permission,” said Barlow. “The morning-after pill is a cheap attempt to solidify in a teenager that there are no consequences. If I remove the consequences, she’ll never learn to grow up.”
Josh Hutchins viewed the decision as government interference.
“I think it’s interesting how we accept the government’s authority to tell us what we can put in our body,” said Hutchins. “The reason, age, and pill are kind of irrelevant. Where did the government get the authority to tell us what we can and can’t do to our bodies?”
Leslie Moyer, Shady Grove resident, believes using the morning-after pill demonstrates responsibility.
“For those of you who think a woman shouldn’t have access to the morning after pill because it prevents her from taking responsibility for her actions by simply taking a pill, I would point out that many medications fall into that category – specifically all of the medications that a person might take due to an unhealthy diet, sedentary lifestyle, or unhealthy weight,” said Moyer. “Those include all high blood pressure medications, diabetes meds, cholesterol meds, Viagra, etc. Besides, taking the morning-after pill is taking responsibility. I know one thing for sure: If men were culturally the primary caregivers in our culture, this would have been legalized over-the-counter long ago.”
Lyn Arter, retired local librarian, said thorough reproductive education is needed.
“In Oklahoma, since we have one of the highest teen pregnancy rates, we need to encourage teens to take precautions,” said Arter. “They need to first learn what having intercourse is about, then how to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. The morning-after pill is one more way to help prevent the unwanted pregnancy but what we really need is to stop encouraging young girls’ thinking that having a baby is cool. Children should be a well-thought-out decision made by people well-prepared to care and love them, not just the product of a night of messing around.”
Local resident Richard Hoenes also believes the FDA ruling is sound.
“In Oklahoma, girls as young as 16 can have sex legally, so they should have access to Plan B,” said Hoenes. “And if the choice is unwanted pregnancy or contraception, I’ll pick contraception.”
Six local pharmacies were contacted, asking if Plan B or a generic equivalent is available. Of the six, three carry the drug: Cherokee Hills Pharmacy, Reasor’s and Walgreen’s, with varying restrictions. It is not currently available locally to anyone under age 17. Three other pharmacies – Bird’s TMC, Tahlequah Drug Co. and Walmart – do not carry the drug in any form.