April 5, 2013

Area parents support expanding access to morning-after pill to young teens

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

Local parents say they support a ruling Friday that would allow women younger than 17 to purchase the morning-after pill without a prescription.

click image to enlarge

This undated image, made available by Teva Women's Health, shows the packaging for their Plan B One-Step (levonorgestrel) tablet, one of the brands known as the "morning-after pill." In a scathing rebuke of the Obama administration, a federal judge ruled Friday that age restrictions on over-the-counter sales of the morning-after pill are "arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable" and must end within 30 days.

AP photo

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They just hope their own daughters never find themselves facing that situation alone.

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

That means consumers of any age could buy emergency contraception without a prescription, rather than having to first prove they're 17 or older. Now, a girl under 17 years old needs a prescription for the drug.

Friday afternoon, Dariana Garcia, 19, held her infant son on a bench beside a deteriorating basketball court in Waterville's South End and said 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 would have never gone through the same level of trauma, she said.

"I felt like I was murdering my baby," she said.

But the executive director of the Maine Christian Civic League said the ruling "obliterates" the expectation that a girl would have to be at least 17 to get the drug on her own.

"We believe it ignores the involvement of parents and medical professionals who are safeguards for young girls," said Executive Director Carroll Conley Jr.

Megan Hannan, director of public relations for Planned Parenthood of New England, said her organization is happy with the ruling.

"We know it's safe and effective ... there is no medical reason to make it only available for women 17 or older," Hannan said.

At a Portland park Friday afternoon, Susana DelaPena played with her 4-year-old daughter and said "there are two sides to everything."

"You'd hope your child would come and talk to you about that, but that's not everyone's situation," DelaPena said.

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

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