Age restrictions on emergency contraception access are unacceptable

Feministing co-founder Jessica Valenti has a well written and compelling piece in the Nation today on the FDA’s decision to make emergency contraception, or the morning after pill, available over the counter to women older than 15 years old who can “prove their age”.

From the FDA press release:

The product will now be labeled “not for sale to those under 15 years of age *proof of age required* not for sale where age cannot be verified.” Plan B One-Step will be packaged with a product code prompting a cashier to request and verify the customer’s age. A customer who cannot provide age verification will not be able to purchase the product. In addition, Teva has arranged to have a security tag placed on all product cartons to prevent theft.

In addition, Teva will make the product available in retail outlets with an onsite pharmacy, where it generally, will be available in the family planning or female health aisles. The product will be available for sale during the retailer’s normal operating hours whether the pharmacy is open or not.

As Jessica explains, this decision comes just in time to meet the 30-day deadline imposed by a federal judge mandating EC be available without a prescription to women of all ages. The Obama administration still needs to appeal the judge’s decision or request a stay by Monday. After reviewing some of the reactions from groups like Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights, she explains why the age restriction is a way bigger deal than it might seem at first glance:

Indeed, it’s hard to see how most 15 year olds would be able to access the drug, given that they need to prove their age in the form of a driver’s license, passport or birth certificate. As Sarah Kliff at The Washington Post points out, most states won’t allow teens to apply for a driver’s license until they are 16 years old, and in 2010, only 28 percent of 16 year olds even had licenses.Teens who don’t have access to a government ID would not have any easier a time procuring a passport or birth certificate. If a girl had either of those documents, it’s most likely that her parents would have them filed away. And if a teenage girl wanted to obtain a passport or birth certificate herself, there is no way she could do so in the 72 hours needed to ensure that Plan B is effective. There’s also a socioeconomic factor to who has licenses and who doesn’t, making the proof-of-age restriction even more burdensome to marginalized communities, especially young women who are undocumented.

Jodi Jacobson of RHREalityCheck has a good roundup of statements and reactions from different organizations in response to the decision. She also delivers a scathing indictment of the age restriction, “describing it as “adding insult to injury” and noting that “it seems these days that no matter the administration in power, ensuring women have access to basic reproductive health care remains fraught with bias and mismanagement.”

The feminist and reproductive justice community should not be forced into conceding this point. Teen girls are exactly the kind of people who deserve access to this contraceptive technology, as statistically they are most likely to face an unwanted vs wanted pregnancy. Age restrictions on emergency contraception access should be unacceptable to the reproductive justice community.

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman started blogging with Feministing in 2008, and now runs partnerships and strategy as a co-Executive Director. She is also the Director of Youth Engagement at Women Deliver, where she promotes meaningful youth engagement in international development efforts, including through running the award-winning Women Deliver Young Leaders Program. Lori was formerly the Director of Global Communications at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and has also worked at the United Nations Foundation on the Secretary-General's flagship Every Woman Every Child initiative, and at the International Women’s Health Coalition and Human Rights Watch. As a leading voice on women’s rights issues, Lori frequently consults, speaks and publishes on feminism, activism and movement-building. A graduate of Harvard University, Lori has been named to The Root 100 list of the most influential African Americans in the United States, and to Forbes Magazine‘s list of the “30 Under 30” successful mediamakers. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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