On April 5, the United States took another miscalculated step in the name of reproductive rights. Judge Edward R. Korman, a federal judge from the Eastern District of New York, ordered the Food and Drug Administration to make the emergency contraceptive Plan B One-Step (also known as the “morning-after pill”) available over-the-counter to children 16 and younger as soon as early May. The drug, which is used to prevent pregnancy for up to 72 hours after “unprotected sex,” currently is available for purchase without a prescription to anyone 17 and older. 

What is shocking about this decision is that it has been heralded as an incredible scientific advance as well as extending “reproductive rights” to children. 

Is the fact that 13-year-olds will soon be able to bike to the corner drugstore to pick up “emergency contraception” a scientific advance or a social disaster?

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, lauded Korman’s ruling saying, “science has finally prevailed over politics.” The CRR had been petitioning the FDA to make the drug available over-the-counter since 2001, but the move was blocked first by the Bush administration, then by the Obama administration. 

While this might be expected of propagandists, even the American Medical Association strongly has supported efforts to make these pills “more readily available” even while encouraging physicians to play a “more active role” in teaching about emergency contraception.  

Which raises the obvious question: Is anybody looking after the welfare of America’s children? Is the fact that 13-year-olds will soon be able to bike to the corner drugstore to pick up “emergency contraception” a scientific advance or a social disaster? 

Sebelius
U.S Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (file photo) CNS photo/Matthew Barrick

In 2011, the FDA released a statement saying Plan B is “safe and effective for nonprescription use.” Its availability without a prescription for those younger than 17 was blocked, however, by Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, on the grounds that she didn’t think young girls taking the drug likely would be able to understand the label and therefore wouldn’t be able to use the product correctly. That assessment itself is staggering. If young girls can’t interpret the label, are these same girls ready to make huge decisions about their lives and bodies without parental or medical guidance? 

Furthermore, even if the physical side effects were minimal (which is not true) and even if young girls could fully understand the effects of Plan B on their bodies, what about effects on their emotions, their psyches? What of the young women who will be pressured into having sex more readily or frequently because this drug would be available — just in case — to anyone at anytime? What of the damage to parent-child relationships that comes when girls more easily are able to engage in sexual activity and prevent pregnancy without their parents’ knowledge or approval? What about the stress to mind, body and soul that comes from putting such big decisions into such little hands? 

In a statement April 5, Deirdre McQuade, spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, called for the Obama administration to appeal the decision, saying that the federal court “acted irresponsibly by making this powerful drug available without a prescription to minor children.” 

“No public health consideration justifies the unregulated distribution of such drugs to children,” McQuade said. 

All Catholics should join the USCCB in demanding this ruling be appealed, for it appears that children are once again being betrayed by the very adults — judges and doctors — who should be protecting them. 

Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor; Sarah Hayes, executive editor