My daughter can buy the PlanB pill (gulp)

planb one step birth controlThe Food and Drug Administration this week announced that the controversial emergency contraceptive “PlanB” tablet has been approved as an over-the-counter drug, and that it’s going to be available for women “15 and older” to purchase.

In case you don’t know what PlanB is, it’s levonorgestrel, a drug that a woman can take after unprotected sex to avoid getting pregnant. Or, to phrase it another way, it’s the morning-after instant abortion pill. While the intent of it is to compensate for “Oh my God! I forgot to take my pill this week!!” the reality is that for some women it’s going to become an alternative to using proper birth control.

For adults I firmly believe that we can make our own decisions, and an adult woman who decides that she’d rather rely on PlanB than any other form of birth control? Well, that’s her decision and will have whatever consequences it’ll have for her long-term health.

The thing that’s bugging me is that the FDA has approved sale of the drug for girls 15 and older. Look closely at the box — there’s even a different form of this drug for women under 17, apparently.

Now I can talk about stats and about the fact that teen pregnancy has actually been dropping for the last few decades and that the CDC published a paper less than a year ago titled Birth Rates for U.S. Teenagers Reach Historic Lows for All Age and Ethnic Groups, teen birth rate dropping 44% from 1991-2010, but…

But that’s not what’s sticking with me about this story, frankly.

What I can’t quite wrap my head around is that if this had been released on the market two years ago, my oldest could have walked into a pharmacy — or supermarket — and picked up a dose or two of PlanB without us parents ever knowing.

It’s a tricky, controversial issue: at what age do girls transition to women, able to make their own decisions and obtain their own meds and medical treatments without their parents being in the loop or even being notified? Between driving age, age for potential military service, drinking age, and now PlanB purchasing age, it’s clear that no-one in our society has figured out The Age At Which Everything Is Ok.

My daughter already has a boyfriend and is almost halfway through high school. It’s not far down the road she’ll be driving off into the sunset, heading to college, parties, and goodness knows what kind of freshman experiences. If her first year of college was like mine, well. ‘nuf said on that.

She’s old enough to get into trouble, for sure. But is she old enough to be able to sneak into the drugstore and buy PlanB if she realizes that she’s been sexually active without adequate protection?

The very thought makes me just gulp and feel like it’s time to run away. This stuff was way easier when she was in first grade.

If you have a teen daughter, how do you feel about her being able to purchase PlanB without you being notified or involved in the decision?

11 comments on “My daughter can buy the PlanB pill (gulp)

  1. I guess the question from me to you is this: If she were ever in a position in which she needed it, would you rather she have access to it or not? Granted, it may never be an issue, but even if it were, and she did, would you want to know about it?

    • The issue is that as a teen, I think she needs to be aware of birth control and the consequences of not using it. If she is afraid she’s gotten pregnant, that’s something for her to talk about with us and have us together come up with a solution because she’s still a minor until, what, she’s 18? She moves out of my house? not for her to sneak out to the store and “solve the problem” as if getting pregnant is no different to getting indigestion.

  2. Seriously – a parent is about the last person a teenage girl is going to talk to about this stuff. They will try to take care of it themselves and/or with help from their girlfriends. She can go to Planned Parenthood now to get contraception, so this is just another option. It isn’t an abortion pill though.

  3. “Or, to phrase it another way, it’s the morning-after instant abortion pill…”
    Um, no. You’ve got Plan B confused with RU-486. (See: http://contraception.about.com/od/emergencycontraception/p/PlanB1Step.htm) It’s essentially the equivalent of an uber-strong birth control pill. It wouldn’t abort a pregnancy.

    That said? If your teenage daughter needs Plan B? You’ve got a bigger problem than whether or not the pharmacy lets her buy it without telling you. Just like if she’s buying a pregnancy test you would.

    Just like alcohol, cigarettes, and other “age restricted” drugs? If there’s a 15 year old who wants access to it, there’s someone out there willing to buy it for them for the right price. To me, it’s more a matter of worrying about the behavior, not the access to the Plan B pill.

  4. Your sis is correct. A parent is just about the last person a teenage girl is going to go to talk about having unprotected sex and the fact that she’s freaked about it. She’s going to use the Internet, she’s going to ask her friends, she’s going to panic. I’ve raised teenage girls, and I was one, so I’m pretty confident about this one. And you don’t want her to wait until she IS pregnant to come and talk with you, which is a natural, expected course of events in the event of a goof up. I say trust her to figure it out. Talk with her about the importance (not only from pregnancy) of unprotected sex – because she WILL be thinking about it. Or doing it. I was 16 when I lost my virginity and I wasn’t the first girl I knew to do so. It’s hard for parents to grasp, but it happens. Talk with her about unprotected sex, talk with her about what to do if something happens, talk with her about trusting you to help her if she has a problem or a question. She’ll be skeeved out by the conversation, as will you, but it’ll be a good one to have.

    And then, you’ll just have to trust her to make the right decision for her if and when the time comes. This child-rearing gig? It can be hard as hell sometimes. But worth every minute.

  5. I have a real problem with Plan B and even birth control being given to teens without parental knowledge or permission. I raised 4 daughters and one son. I talked long and hard about the problems of premarital sex to all of them. My concern had to do with STDs, not pregnancy. Plan B and anything but barrier birth control leaves our children feeling that they are protected when they are NOT!

    My message to my children was that while I certainly hoped they would not end up pregnant, the far worse problem would be an STD. Even today HIV is not really curable. Strains of gonorrhea, syphilis and chlamydia are becoming drug resistant. The Pill and Plan B provide no protection to our children. Perhaps our message to our children should be all sex is unprotected and the only way to be sure not to become a statistic is to limit the number of sexual partners .

    • Here’s a link to a must-read article on this topic from the American College of Pediatricians:

      http://www.acpeds.org/the-college-speaks/position-statements/health-issues/emergency-contraception-not-the-best-for-adolescents

      The abstract: “A policy of either pre-prescribing “emergency contraceptives” to adolescent patients, or making them available without prescription, carries significant medical risk and is counterproductive to the parent-adolescent and patient-physician relationships. The American College of Pediatricians recommends instead that health professionals encourage good adolescent-parental communication, and teach adolescent patients the benefits of delaying sexual activity until marriage and how to avoid early sexual debut.”

      [modified to add article abstract –DT]

  6. Dave, you’re wrong on your facts and not well-grounded in your reasoning.

    First: Levonorgestrel is NOT an abortifacient.
    In plain language: PlanB is NOT an “abortion pill” or “abortive pill”, contrary to the politically motivated language of Mitt Romney and others. If a woman is pregnant, the pregnancy will (98% likely) not be harmed by the pill.
    [source: London: International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics, 2011]
    [Also see NYTimes article and editorial of June 2012]

    Every fertile woman and her parents should know the difference between contraception (the prevention of fertilization) and abortion (the ending of a conceptus before term). I’m sorry you don’t, and I hope your daughter does.

    Secondly: Your phrase “rather rely on PlanB than any other form of birth control” is misleading. While this might be true for “some women”, Plan B intended as a secondary, backup (“Plan B”) contraceptive, not as a primary means of birth control. PlanB prevents a situation where a woman might seek an abortion. Just as almost no women “rely on abortion as birth control” (despite political rhetoric), no woman should rely on Plan B as her primary form of contraception.

    Thirdly: “It’s clear that no one in our society has figured out The Age At Which Everything Is OK.” Whose point of view are you expressing? At almost all ages is it possible for people to do things I find not-OK. In other words: Behavior that is not OK by me is not confined to any age group, and is a necessary consequence of liberty and free will.

    Fourthly: “Is she old enough to be able to sneak into the drugstore and buy PlanB …?” Well, l hope not; I hope that if she finds herself in need, she would do the adult thing without shame or sneaking.

    Analogy:
    (In the following, “fire” is to “sex” as “conflagation” is to “undesired pregnancy”.)
    Most parents will have taught their children the consequences of irresponsible fire.
    Well-taught teens will have a good sense that the warnings were trustworthy and real.
    Most teens nonetheless will have experience with unsupervised fire.
    Most well-taught teens who deal with fire will do so responsibly.
    Some teens may find themselves in situations where an unintended situation might result in a conflagration. Good training should include the ability to differentiate between a emerging situation that requires help from a parent, a conflagration that requires a professional, and a situation where the teen can prevent the potential emergency herself (and, you hope as a parent, she will tell you about it — but that’s up to the teen).

    This knowledge and trust should be extended even to teens who have never before encountered fire-making. Imagine a 16-year-old away at her out-of-state cousin’s home for a week. The first night she’s there, an unruly neighbor kid (or, worse, her trusted uncle) involves her in nonconsensual fire-making. The next day, it’s unknown to her whether the danger is entirely past, or if preventative action needs to be taken to avoid conflagration.

  7. Good conversation, and I am aware of the RU-486 and that’s not what I was comparing PlanB to here. The point is simple, whether or not people want to face the reality: If a teen girl has unprotected sex and does nothing, she has a chance of getting pregnant. If a teen girl has unprotected sex and takes the PlanB pill the next day, her chance of getting pregnant diminishes. Ergo, the pill is a way to decrease the chance that a pregnancy, which will already have started its initial processes of development immediately after the sperm meets that fateful egg. So how can you consider PlanB as anything other than a way to abort a pregnancy, even if it’s at the very, very, very first stage of the process, the first 72 hours?

    In terms of other comments, well, I wish “fact checker” had the courage to put a name to their comments rather than be rather pretentious and full of themselves. I never intended to get into a factual argument about whether PlanB should be available, but rather it’s my intent to share my own mixed emotions about this sort of after-the-fact drug becoming available to girls FIFTEEN and older without their parents being involved or even aware that their daughter has gotten pregnant.

    Should I have a perfect relationship with my children where we talk openly and candidly about everything including sex and intimacy? Of course. Does anyone? Of course not. And I am aware of that. It is not my intention to invite suggestions on what I should talk about with my daughter vis-a-vis sex, unprotected sex and pregnancy, I think I can figure that one out (albeit with great embarrassment along the way).

    The purpose of my post, and perhaps I just didn’t make it clear, was to share my own mixed feelings about teen sexual activity, the government approving availability of a pregnancy-ending drug to girls far younger than my own, and my concerns about the long term ramifications.

    And those of you who actually answered my question about how YOU feel about 15-17yo girls being able to purchase PlanB without parental notification or approval, thank you. It’s food for thought.

  8. And round and round we go. This is why these sort of discussions are difficult to have. I frankly don’t much care about PlanB or RU-486. My original topic and what I’d like to discuss here is the emotional experience of a father reacting to their 15 or 16yo daughter suddenly gaining access to “oops, but I can fix it” solutions that they can use post-sex and without their parents ever knowing.

    I’d like to encourage people to share their reactions and thoughts on that topic, not obsess on whether or not I should have used “abort” in my original piece. Forest, trees, leaves, molecules on trees, et al.

    Again, to restate: I am feeling very ambivalent regarding the FDA deciding that girls as young as 15yo can purchase a drug that’s strong enough to significant reduce the chance of getting pregnant post-intercourse (there, is that phrased better?) without me being notified or in the loop at all.

    And for the record, my teen and I have a good rapport and she does talk with me about personal things in her life including a variety of topics that are inappropriate for me to share here on my blog. Which is, of course, my challenge as a dad blogger and parent who respects my children’s privacy. 🙂

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