Posted: May 2, 2013 at 4:32 pm
By Michael Stahurski, Laura Clark and Kelly Dugan
In early April, a federal judge ruled that the emergency contraception known as Plan B can be sold over the counter to anyone. overturning an existing ban on sales of the morning-after pill to girls under the age of 17. This week, the FDA announced that it would allow pharmacies to sell Plan B to those who are 15 years of age or older, and the Obama administration said it would appeal the controversial ruling by Judge Edward Korman of the United States District Court of New York.
Some experts say the wider availability of Plan B may help reduce the rate of teenage pregnancy in West Virginia, which has consistently ranked in the top 10 states with the highest teen pregnancy rates nationwide. The Mountain State currently averages 45 teen births per 1,000 girls, while counties in southern West Virginia such as Boone, Clay, Mingo and McDowell, exceed 75 births per 1,000 teenage girls.
However, others believe there may be a backlash to the ruling in West Virginia. Some conservative groups argue that the ruling could make young teens more likely to take part in unprotected sex, although others say that is unlikely to happen, especially since most teenagers don’t even know what Plan B is.
“We’re a very conservative state. I think what legislators are going to try and do is develop a resolution that may make it more difficult to access [Plan B],” says Daniel Brewster, a professor of sociology at West Virginia University. “We’re the type of state where it’s like, girls get pregnant, that’s what they’re supposed to do.”
Brewster notes that teenage pregnancy compels many girls to drop out of school and go to work to provide for their child. As a result, they miss important educational opportunities like finishing high school and attending college.
The state’s high pregnancy rates might be one reason why West Virginia has a low rate of students who graduate from high school and college. States with high rates of college graduates, such as New York and Massachusetts, average 22 and 17 teen births per 1,000 girls, respectively. The more educated the parents, the more likely they are to teach their children about the risks of unprotected sex, research shows.
“It comes down to education and accessibility,” says Alison Tartaglia, a health educator at well WVU.
The federal government’s decision to appeal Judge Korman’s ruling provides the Obama administration to stake out a moderate position in the broader debate over abortion, according to The New York Times. In the meantime, the Justice Department has asked Judge Korman to stay his order allowing girls of any age to obtain the pill. That ruling would go into effect on Monday.
Even if Plan B becomes widely available to young teenagers, not all of them will take advantage of it.
“Most teenagers don’t think about risk-taking behavior whatsoever,” says Brewster. “So yeah, I think some may think, we can get this Plan B, but I think the vast majority may not even know what it is.”
The Plan B pill contains levonorgestrel, the female hormone that prevents ovulation. That is why the pill is most successful when it is taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex. But some worry about the side effects of this hormone on young girls. Just like any birth control pill on the market, there is a small risk of blood clots and stroke.
“It would be the equivalent of someone who has ever forgotten to take a birth control pill and doubled up,” says Tartaglia. “It’s not something you want to be doing every weekend for a year but if someone takes it a couple times a year because a condom broke, that’s perfectly safe.”
While some will argue that making Plan B available to young girls may encourage them to be promiscuous, others say it will give teenagers more control over whether or not they get pregnant.
“This gives [teenagers] more control over their own bodies,” says Brewster.