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 is Executive Director of Partnerships at Feministing, where she enjoys creating and curating content on gender, race, class, technology, and the media. Lori is also an advocacy and communications professional specializing in sexual and reproductive rights and health, and currently works in the Global Division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. A graduate of Harvard University, she lives in Brooklyn.

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

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  • honeybee

    While I agree with you, if those goes ahead some of what you say is not in fact true – e.g.:

    My son has had a passport since 6 months old. Most children I know have passports. Maybe there parents have it but they could a) apply for one themself ahead of time, or b) ask for access to it.

    But even better, since the restriction is you must OVER 15 – i.e., at least 16, it means 16 year olds can get a drivers license. Here’s the thing – you don’t need an actual drivers license – you just need to apply for your learners permit which you can do the day you turn 16 regardless of if you have a car or intend to get your actual license. This is considered valid ID that can be used for these purposes.

    So what this does mean is teens need to proactively obtain ID beforehand just in case, or run out and get a learners permit before going to the drug store.

    Those things suck. But they can be overcome.

  • jes

    Some kids can and do have ID at age 15. They have parents who support them in having access to Plan B or have the resources to support them in applying for passports and drivers licenses.

    But this certainly isn’t all, or necessarily most kids.

    For example, both a learner’s permit and a passport require parental consent. Maybe your parents can’t afford for you to be on their insurance, so they don’t want you to get a learner’s permit yet. And you can’t explain you just need it for ID for Plan B, because they won’t approve of you being sexual active. Or your family simply does not have the $100+ required for passport application (which is almost 2 days of work at minimum wage job).

    Plan B should be available to everyone, not just those with the resources/parental support to get an ID.