The risks of Plan B

The debate over how old a girl should be before she can purchase Plan B -- the so-called morning-after pill -- without a doctor's prescription, has received media attention. Federal court judge Edward Korma recently ordered the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to lift the restrictions on the morning-after pill, saying females of all ages should have unimpeded access to emergency birth control without a prescription. The effect of this ruling would be to allow girls as young as ten to purchase this drug without visiting a physician and without parental notification or consent.

The judge argued that the pill was safe, meaning one supposes that it won't kill you.

The FDA was willing to lower the age for purchase without prescription or parental consent to 15, but is challenging the judge's demand that all restrictions be lifted.

They both seem to be missing the obvious risks. If a girl thinks she needs Plan B, it means that she believes that she is at risk for pregnancy because she has engaged in unprotected sex. However, if she has engaged in unprotected sex, she is also at risk of exposure to any of the large number of sexually transmitted infections [STIs] which are epidemic among young people.

According to a 2013 report on the "severe human and economic burden of STIs" published by the Centers for Disease Control, "there are more than 110 million STIs among men and women nationwide" and "nearly 20 million new infections occur each year -- half among the nation's youth," that is 10 million new infections. These diseases include HPV, Chlamydia, Trichomoniasis, Gonorrhea, Herpes, Syphilis, HIV, and Hepatitis B. "The lifetime direct medical cost of treating eight of the most common STIs contracted in just one year is $15.6 billion."

Given the nature of the STI epidemic among young people, the risk that a girl engaging in unprotected sex will become infected with an STI is very high. HIV, Herpes, and HPV can be treated, but not cured. The vaccine for HPV prevents only four of the 100 varieties of HPV, some of which cause cancer. Gonorrhea and Chlamydia, if not treated immediately, can lead to scarring of the fallopian tubes, which can in turn cause life-threatening ectopic pregnancies or infertility.

While Plan B may prevent pregnancy, it will not prevent infection with an STI. There is no over-the-counter quick cure for these infections, that is why sexually active girls need to see a doctor and be checked out and treated for STIs.

Making Plan B available for teenagers in the midst of an STI epidemic will lead to more untreated infections.

In addition, most states laws hold that girls under 16 are not old enough to consent to sexual relations. Young girls are easily seduced and may not understand the risks both psychological and physical involved in sexual relations. If her male partner is 5 years older than she is, he is guilty of statutory rape. Plan B is a statutory rapist's best friend. If an underage girl's partner is closer to her age, he may not be guilty of a crime, but that doesn't prevent psychological damage. She may convince herself that she is in love, while her partner is simply interested in satisfying his desires with little concern for her welfare.

In all the coverage, there has been virtually no mention of the real question: Should teenagers have sex?

The common sense answer is: No.

Those pushing for Plan B argue that since girls under 16 are engaging in sex anyway, we have to offer them protection, but this behavior is not inevitable. In the past, adults recognized that girls were seducible and provided adult supervision. Parents, who wouldn't think of letting their daughter ride in a car without a seat belt or ride a bike without a helmet, blithely allow young men access to their daughters and assume that an eleven or twelve year old girl will be able to resist temptation. It is not enough to teach the girls to just say 'No.' The adults have to also say 'No' to underage dating.

Parents who want to protect their children should begin by pulling them out of the comprehensive sex education courses offered in public schools. Those offering these courses may have conned parents into believing that such sex education would prevent teen pregnancy and STIs, but their true purpose was to encourage children to "explore their sexuality." The strategies they offered were designed to "reduce risk," not eliminate it. The epidemic is proof of their failure. In the face of the STI epidemic, these courses are like throwing gasoline on a fire.

Dale O'Leary is a freelance writer and author of "The Gender Agenda: Redefining Equality" and "One Man, One Woman."

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