The Food and Drug Administration announced on Tuesday April 30 that a popular emergency contraception pill, or “morning after pill,” would be made available over the counter to anyone ages 15 and up. Previously, the pill was only available without a prescription for those 17 years of age and older. While this is certainly a victory for women’s reproductive rights, there are larger issues surrounding teenagers’ sexual health that this measure fails to address.
Condom use among adolescents is on the rise, but the rate of teen pregnancy in the United States is still higher than that of many developed countries. Twenty-five percent of new cases of sexually transmitted infections in the U.S. occur amongst adolescents. A more effective way to address these issues is increasing access to preventative care like condoms, which are still unavailable in most high schools. This is especially problematic for low-income adolescents, for whom purchasing condoms is not a feasible option.
Across the country, preventative health services are on the chopping block. In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker’s budget cuts forced the imminent closing of four Planned Parenthood facilities. In addition to providing low-cost healthcare for women who might not be able to afford it otherwise, Planned Parenthood provides free condoms and birth control pills for those who would not be able to afford them otherwise.
The problem is not isolated to Wisconsin, though. In Texas, Planned Parenthood and similar clinics are ineligible to receive federal funding under a new law that bans organizations affiliated with providing abortion services from receiving federal aid. Of course, abortion services are only 3 percent of what Planned Parenthood actually does. The majority of its services are comprised of disease treatment, cancer screening and prevention and providing contraception.
A pending budget proposal in Ohio aims to strip Planned Parenthood and other family planning facilities of up to $2 million in public funding. The bill has already passed in the Ohio House, and is now headed to the state Senate. State lawmakers in Arizona and Montana are currently pushing for similar cuts to family planning services, despite the immense benefit they provide for both men and women.
Increasing access to emergency contraception is certainly helpful, but it does not actually promote safe sex habits. Its very name relegates it to cases of emergency. Education and access to contraception, on the other hand, have been found to be effective in reducing unwanted pregnancies and STIs. Yet, those very services are the ones that are being cut nationwide.
Making emergency contraception available to more young women is a positive step for reproductive health, but there are bigger issues to resolve before this move is celebrated too much.