Emergency Contraception under attack again

by Katherine Ragsdale,
Interim Excecutive Director, Political Research Associates

August 2, 2005

Emergency Contraception once again awaits FDA approval. The drug has repeatedly been shown to be safe enough for over-the-counter use by women and teens. The American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the Society for Adolescent Medicine all support nonprescription status for EC because EC is entirely safe for both adult and teenage women.

As for effective -- it is estimated that over half of the approximately 3 million unintended pregnancies in America each year could be prevented if EC were available. Of the approximately 25,000 US pregnancies caused by rape each year, it is estimated that as many as 22,000 could be prevented if the victims had timely access to EC. This drug prevents ovulation, fertilization, or implantation – it prevents rather than terminates pregnancies. It’s hard to imagine how anyone could oppose the use of this safe and effective form of contraception.

But a range of anti-choice forces on the Right, such as Focus on the Family and Concerned Women for America, do oppose young women’s access to EC, either because they claim, inaccurately, that EC can induce abortion or because they disapprove of young women’s sexual activity and, apparently, either hope the unavailability to EC will discourage teen sexual activity or wish to see such activity punished with enforced pregnancy. (See, for example, http://www.family.org/cforum/fosi/ bioethics/facts/a0030438.cfm and http://w ww.cwfa.org/articledisplay.asp? id=1559&department=CWA&categoryid=life.)

It is clear that both the FDA and state legislatures (where many EC access bills are pending) need to hear from us. Check the links below to register your opinion with your officials. While you’re checking those links, be sure to look also at material provided by our partner organization, Advocates for Youth . The current petition before the FDA calls for requiring prescriptions for young women under age 16 to acquire EC.

While we do understand the impulse to provide supervision (as well as counsel and protection) to young teens contemplating any medication, and even to discourage such young teens from engaging in sexual activity in the first place, we also know that EC restrictions will not achieve these goals. We know that the absence of contraceptive alternatives does not prevent teens from engaging in sexual activity. Each year in the US about 800,000 teens get pregnant and 85% of those pregnancies are unintentional.

To quote Advocates for Youth, “No young woman should have to face an unwanted pregnancy when a remedy exists to prevent pregnancy. Women have a right to prevent pregnancy, regardless of their age or whether the risk of pregnancy is due to rape, contraceptive failure, or unprotected sex.” Join Advocates for Youth in their campaign to assure that EC is readily available to everyone who needs it, regardless of age.

For more on parental involvement requirements, see the testimony of interim PRA director The Rev. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale before the US Senate.

The Rev. Dr. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale, Interim Executive Director of PRA, is an Episcopal priest and internationally known activist. She serves on the boards of NARAL Pro-Choice America and The White House Project. She was, for 8 years, the chair of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.

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