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Politics Over Morning-After Pill Misses the Impact on Families

The Justice Department has filed a notice that it intends to appeal a federal judge’s ruling that would allow girls and women of all ages over-the-counter access to the so-called “morning after” contraceptive pill.

It is difficult enough for parents to acknowledge that their teenagers – and sometimes preteens – may be having sex. Adults want to believe their sons, and especially their daughters, when they say they are putting off that first experience.

The truth is many teens have sex without talking with their parents and they may be afraid to broach the subject with the adults in their family. It is that set of facts of life that make reproductive rights advocates support HPV vaccinations for children as young as 11 and Plan B, the morning-after pill that stops ovulation, for girls as young as 15.

To say reproductive rights advocates support the use of these measures may be overstating it a bit. They are not encouraging young girls to have sex, but what they do want, they say, is a safe and effective option in case of emergency, which is what the pill was designed to do.

Conservative anti-abortion groups are opposed to contraceptives being made available to young girls.

Still, the Obama administration doesn’t want to make it that easy for youngsters to get the pill. Besides the moral implications, which the government can’t legislate, there are questions about the safety of the pill for girls below a certain age and whether they will know how to use it properly if it could be bought without a prescription.

Even so, President Obama said Thursday that he was “comfortable” with the decision by the FDA to make the morning-after pill available for purchase over the counter to those 15 years of age or older.

Last month, U.S. District Judge Edward R. Korman ordered the administration to make the contraceptive widely available. Korman did not specify an age limit in his ruling. The ruling reversed a 2011 decision by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, which barred the FDA from approving the sale of the drug to girls under 17 without a prescription, citing safety concerns.

Korman said Sebelius overstepped her bounds.

The Justice Department, obviously disagreeing, filed its notice Wednesday, asking that Korman stay his order pending the outcome of the administration’s appeal.

“It is a safe and effective product in which the benefits outweigh the risks. But it is intended as a back-up method, not a primary method of birth control,’’ Dr. Karen Y. Tang, assistant professor of Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine told The Miami Herald’s Audra Burch. “This is for situations in which there is a malfunction of a birth-control method or an accident.’’

“The court and the FDA are acting irresponsibly by making this powerful drug available without a prescription to minor children. The court’s action undermines parents’ ability to protect their daughters from the adverse effects of the drug itself,’’ Barbara Groeber, education coordinator of the Archdiocese of Miami’s Respect Life Ministry, also told The Herald.

One can argue science, religion and health issues, but in homes across the country this issue is far more personal and runs so much deeper than politics can begin to touch. It goes to the heart of a parent’s ability to instill values in her children and get them to observe them, and with wrestling a worst-case scenario – an unwanted pregnancy – should the children reject those guideposts.

Parents want to believe their children will wait, but also want to be sure they are safe if they don’t. And it’s not clear that the government should have any say on the issue at all beyond determining if the product is safe.

Jackie Jones, a journalist and journalism educator, is director of the career transformation firm Jones Coaching LLC and author of “Taking Care of the Business of You: 7 Days to Getting Your Career on Track.”

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