Every good strategist comes into a situation with a plan B. Even our Congressmen suggest "Plan B" efforts when dealing with our economy. Yet, girls under the age of 17 must jump through hoops in order to have access to a birth control back-up-plan: emergency contraception.
After unprotected sex, a woman can take emergency contraception -- also known as Plan B or the morning-after pill -- in order to avoid pregnancy. This pill is not an abortion pill. It simply inhibits a woman's ovaries from releasing an egg. No egg means no fertilization which means no babies. Nice and simple.
Despite its relative ease, getting this pill is a challenge for young women. Currently, girls under the age of 17 must receive a prescription from their doctors in order to take any form of emergency contraception. A major flaw in this mandatory doctor approval is that many girls will not be able to receive the medication before it loses its effectiveness. Most emergency contraception, according to Planned Parenthood, is most effective 24 hours after unprotected sex and can stop pregnancies up to five days after unprotected sex. Given how difficult it can be to find time to schedule a doctor's appointment, drive to a clinic and then fill a prescription, this window of time may not be long enough to accommodate the intensive labors of actually receiving a prescription. Girls who live far from clinics or have limited access to transportation may find it even more difficult to receive a prescription, putting these teens at a greater risk for pregnancy.
So why do we have this law? Many people see these doctors' appointments as an opportunity to sit down with these obviously misguided vixens and set them straight about the dangers of sex. Forget that the young men who donated their sperm to the young lady's potential child never have to face this sex reeducation, because isn't it really the girl's fault for not controlling herself in the first place? This law joins the throngs of others that force women to take the entire onus for participating in unprotected sex while their male partners can simply walk away from the situation.
This last-ditch effort to teach a girl about safe sex is a flimsy band-aid on the greater problems in sex education: for many students, sex ed is simply non-existent. According to the Guttmacher Institute, an organization focusing on sexual and reproductive health, in 2006, 46 percent of teenage boys and 33 percent of female girls had not received formal education on contraception before they had sex. In addition, the organization found that one-third of teenagers never received any education on contraception. While my school district is fairly liberal and otherwise progressive, it still employs an abstinence-plus-health-education curriculum. This means that schools in my county spend days promoting abstinence as the best way to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy while only brushing over other forms of birth control as side notes. In my one semester of high school health, we spent weeks talking about eating healthy food and just one class period learning about contraception. This is not unusual. Eighty-seven percent of US public schools teach that abstinence is the most effective birth control, and about one-in-four teens just received abstinence only education, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Study after study shows that teaching abstinence does not lower pregnancy rates. Everyone is aware that if you don't have sex, you won't get pregnant. We can all ace that test. What will help teens avoid pregnancy is if schools teach about existing birth control methods exist, how to use them properly and where to purchase them before a couple has unprotected sex or a girl gets pregnant. This education should be given to both girls AND boys because, last time I checked, a girl can't get pregnant on her own. Blaming a girl for needing emergency contraception when she wasn't properly taught about birth control in the first place is a sorry reaction to the initial failings of our flawed sex education.
The reason for this abstinence-only education is that many adults don't want to put ideas of sex into the young and immature minds of high school students. We should just be concerned with puppy dogs and ice cream cones. Our perceived immaturity is one of the justifications people have for banning younger teens from accessing emergency contraception. Apparently teens are too immature to take a pill yet they are mature enough to accept the serious consequence of having a child. Makes sense to me! Many also worry that emergency contraception will encourage girls to have unprotected sex yet studies show that this concern is unfounded. Giving girls access to emergency contraception has no affect on their likeliness to engage in unprotected sex.
Again, lawmakers won't give girls control over their bodies yet they will leave girls with no choice but to be responsible over another human being. Thirteen-year-olds should have even easier access to emergency contraception than anyone else because they are the last people who should run the risk of becoming mothers. We should be applauding young women who seek out emergency contraception for their maturity in taking control over their sexual lives. No girl should be ridiculed for deploying her back-up plan.
This post originally appeared on the blog Reproductive Health Reality Check, for which Hannah is a youth editor and contributor.