The so-called "moral majority" does not like the idea of a woman "getting away" with "irresponsible sex."
However, not all failures of birth control are due to irresponsibility. A woman whose partner's condom broke during sex should have a second chance (a "Plan B" as the issue has come to be called) to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. Even if the sex is irresponsible and unprotected, young teenagers, for example -- would it really be better to let the girl become pregnant, later to become an abortion statistic or an unwilling, immature, unprepared mother? The opposition hates the idea that a woman can escape the consequences of recreational sex. They have a punitive attitude toward sex and especially they are against sex for fun. Medical, nursing, and family planning organizations are all in favor of emergency contraception (Ferriman, 1996). Why should the moralistic ideas of a few be forced on the rest of us? Nobody says they have to take a morning-after pill. This is supposed to be a free country. Sexual morality, birth control, and abortions are personal and private matters, and, in fact, the Supreme Court has ruled that privacy is a right that women already have -- a right protected by the U.S. Constitution to make their own reproductive decisions.
In the United States alone we could reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies by half with the use of emergency contraception. Moreover, by making it available over the counter, the time between the unprotected sex and taking the emergency contraceptive could be dramatically reduced. The sooner it is taken the better. If the sex happened on a Friday night, for example, the woman would not have to wait until Monday to get a prescription from her doctor. She could go to the pharmacy and buy it. The only people who oppose the morning-after pill are anti-choice groups who oppose all birth control.
Emergency contraception is extremely safe. A combined dose of four 50-microgram pills is only about 1/3 of the estrogen contained in a month's supply of birth control pills. Women in the 1960s, when birth control pills first came out, took 50-micrograms every single day! Other medicines, which were once prescription-only, have become over the counter medicines with no problems -- why not this needed product? Ferriman (1996) reports, "Nine out of ten women who have had abortions say they would have preferred to use emergency contraception if they had known about it." She also states that 70% of abortions could be prevented by emergency contraception.
The FDA stated as its reason for not allowing over-the-counter sales that the company, Barr Pharmaceuticals, had not proven that women under 17 are able to read the label and take the medicine correctly. Only 29 of the 565 women in Barr's study were women under 17 (Gardiner, 2004). This smacks of falsehood and seems a contrived excuse for caving in to right-wing moralists who believe they should be able to dictate what's right and wrong for everyone. It means women will continue to require a prescription from the doctor in order to take "Plan B."
The morning-after pill is one more strategy for controlling reproduction. It offers women a second chance to avoid an unwanted pregnancy, a "Plan B" to go to if the first plan fails. Emergency contraception is safe and reliable and effective for nearly 90% of women. Why should a woman be saddled with a pregnancy she does not want and isn't ready for, when she can take action to prevent conception? Taking a morning-after pill is far from irresponsible. It makes good sense.
CBS News (2004). FDA rejects OTC morning-after pill. Retrieved 7/30/06: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/06/15/health/main623159.shtml.
Ferriman, A. (1996). The day after sex. New Statesman (London, England), 127 (4388), 5 June, 28-29.
Gardiner, H. (2004). U.S. rules morning-after pill can't be sold over the counter.
New York Times, May 7: Retrieved 8/2/06: http://query.nytimes.com/gest/fullpage.html?sec=health&res+9C00E5DE173CF934A35756
Kaufman, M. (2005). FDA official quits over delay on Plan B. The Washington Post.