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by Marijana Domazet, Monday, May 6, 2013 | Categories: Womens Health

In the US, the morning after pill has been made available for women over the age of 15 and is to be sold over the counter, rather than on prescription only. This increased availability for a younger population has been met with scepticism among critics. Here we consider the main issues.

The pill, which goes by the name Plan B One-step, works for 72 hours after intercourse and can be effective in one of three ways. Firstly, it may delay or prevent ovulation. Secondly, it may impede the fertilization of an egg. Lastly, it works by altering the lining in the uterus, thereby preventing fertilized eggs from being implanted in the uterus. Overall, there is no evidence that points to the treatment harming an unborn foetus or terminating a pregnancy. Moreover, the treatment does not protect against sexually transmitted infections.

While proponents of the ruling argue that wider availability of this pill is beneficial to womens’ health and breaks down barriers to treatment, opponents maintain that if the product were to be sold without prescription young girls would be put at risk. Another argument that has been put forth is that as the treatment is already available in pharmacies, the over-the counter availability may confuse individuals seeking to buy treatment. Although the age-restrictions have been lowered, retail assistants are still responsible for asking for the age of the person buying the treatment and are not to sell it to young-looking women who fail to provide proof of age. However, it is not clear where the supposed confusion would stem from, or who would be responsible for addressing it.

We are not surprised that this treatment has been made available over-the-counter as we are aware of many barriers to getting this treatment, with stigma perhaps being the most obvious one. Given the reports of high rate of unintended pregnancies in the US, it is important that the issue is given due attention. From what we have seen in media reports, the outrage stems from either misunderstanding of the treatment (assuming it is for abortion purposes) or from the fact that it would be given to younger women (and put them at risk). We feel that enabling the product for a lower age group is in line with research findings on unintended pregnancies. In addition to that, there are no reports to our knowledge on the risks being increased for younger patients or the treatment resulting in termination of pregnancy. We always aim to base our opinion on scientific evidence, rather than stigma or social pressures. Based on what we know from research to date, it is clear that the criticisms are unfounded.

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