Women of all ages should have access to reproductive care!

Almost one year ago  Dept. of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius made an unprecedented move in overruling a recommendation from the Food and Drug Administration that would have allowed for emergency contraceptives to be sold over the counter without age restrictions. In her statement at the time, Secretary Sebelius said, “After careful consideration of the FDA summary review, I have concluded that the data submitted by Teva [Pharmaceuticals USA] does not conclusively establish that Plan B One-Step should be made available over-the-counter for all girls of reproductive age.” This decision was not a data-based or scientific decision. In reality, Sebelius was caving in to the extreme right-wing assault on women's rights—that has taken particular aim at reproductive rights.

As it stands, only women and men age 17 and older are able to purchase emergency contraceptives from their local pharmacies without first having to get a prescription from their doctor. The importance of making such contraceptives available for all sexually active women was sidelined by Sebelius' decision.

Then, in late November, the American Academy of Pediatrics criticized the age restriction as an unnecessary hurdle to young women’s access to emergency contraceptives, especially since they are most effective when taken within the first 24 hours after sex. The AAP issued a recommendation to pediatricians nationwide to issue prescriptions to their adolescent patients to ensure that these young people will have the access to EC in a timely manner should they need it. This call is supported by the Society for Adolescent Medicine and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. These scientific organizations recognize the importance of making emergency contraception available to all women.

The right-wing attacks have attempted to frame the question as a moral issue. It is not a matter of morals—not a question of whether teens should have sexual intercourse or not. The reality is that teens engaging in sexual activity should be educated about their options and have unfettered access to contraceptives that allow them to take responsibility and control over their health. Studies have repeatedly shown that access to various contraceptive methods does not lead to an increase in sexual activity in adolescents. Instead, it leads to safer sex.

When teens are not provided with comprehensive sexual education and access to contraceptives, there is a rise in unplanned teenage pregnancies. The ability to avoid unplanned pregnancies is fundamental to women's ability to participate equally in society. Teen childbearing is directly correlated to increased rates of poverty and lower rates of education. Only 32 percent of adolescent mothers complete high school by their late 20s as compared to 73 percent for women who have children after age 20.

Women of all ages should have the right to free, comprehensive reproductive health care, which includes emergency contraceptives and abortion on demand. WORD—Women Organized to Resist and Defend—stands for the rights of youth to be able to take control and responsibility of their sexual lives. And that includes access to contraceptives without restriction.