Pediatricians should consider giving teenage girls a prescription for emergency contraception before they need it, according to a recent report released by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The recommendation represents a significant shift in how the medication has been treated by pediatricians in the United States.
Although the popular emergency contraceptive, consisting of a combination of synthetic estrogens and progesterones, was made over the counter for women 17 years of age and older, women under 17 still require a prescription to obtain the pills.
This presents a problem for girls under 16, who often have difficulty scheduling a doctor's appointment and obtaining a prescription within the 72 hour effective window for emergency contraceptives. Making matters even worse for teenagers trying to get EC, the pill is at its most effective when it's taken as early as possible.
In repeated studies, physicians have found that emergency contraceptive drugs are safe for occasional use in adolescents. Most of the objection to allowing girls under the age of 17 obtain the pills on their own came from people who had issues with the ways in which over the counter Plan B would diminish parental control over a child's medical treatment.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, giving girls pre-emptive prescriptions would solve several of the current issues with prescribing Plan B to teenagers. For one, the pre-emptive prescription could be filled nearly immediately after an incident of unprotected sex or of a birth control method being compromised. This makes the Plan B medications very likely to be effective.
Another reason is that the doctor can evaluate any girls who are given a pre emptive Plan B prescription to ensure that they do not have any medical conditions that might make Plan B less safe for them to take. Doctors can also go over side effect information with patients and help them understand that Plan B is not for use as a primary birth control method.
Anti abortion groups are likely to decry the statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics. These groups also fought the approval of Plan B, as well as the recent change that made it over the counter for girls and women over 17 years of age. According to these anti-abortion groups, because Plan B may be responsible for causing fertilized eggs not to implant in the uterus, they are tantamount to abortion.
However, according to the CDC and other government sources, these pills work primarily by blocking ovulation and are considered very safe. There have been no major lawsuits as a result of Plan B being made available to consumers, either behind the pharmacy counter or over the counter.
It remains to be seen how many pediatricians will actually act in accordance with the new recommendations from the AAP. Parental objections may make it difficult for some pediatricians, especially those in conservative or rural areas, to give pre-emptive Plan B prescriptions to younger female patients.
Sources: cdc.gov, aap.org