The morning after pill has been a subject of great controversy during Barack Obama’s presidency and compromise has been the way of dealing with it. The first compromise was reached in 2009, when the Food and Drug Administration ruled that the pill must be kept behind the pharmacy counter and only those 17 years of age or older could obtain the pill.
The controversy was reignited when a federal judge recently ruled that females of any age should have access to the pill and access would take place 30 days after the ruling. The judge ruled that the scientific evidence shows that taking the pill is not harmful regardless of the age of the person taking it; moreover, he labeled the existing age restrictions as political in nature.
The Food and Drug Administration reacted by ordering that the pill should be taken from behind the counter and displayed on shelves just like any other product especially designed for women’s products. Moreover, the sale of the pill will be restricted to those aged 15 or older. Photo ID will be required.
In defending the FDA decision, President Obama mentioned that he had teenage daughters and the pill represented a difficult decision within the family. In doing so, he reflected the views of many parents who want a role in the pregnancy decisions of their daughters. Obama, I feel, has an unfortunate predilection for mentioning his family in connection with policy issues affecting the whole society. The impression he creates is that the effect on his family is a more important consideration than the impact on the general society.
The downside in setting a minimum age for access to the morning after pill is that pregnancies are sure to result among children under the age of 15, who could have avoided the pregnancy through access to the pill. Pregnancies among the very young seem to me to be a greater societal problem than would restricting parental involvement in their daughters’ reproductive decision-making. Also, having a baby at a very young age dims the educational and employment prospects of the mother.
Class and economic-status issues enter into the decision to set the minimum age of pill access to 15. The poor and near-poor children are less likely to have the required photo ID for proof of age. These same children are less likely to be able to afford the pill; although cost would be a consideration regardless of the age of the child. Planned Parenthood puts the cost of the pill in a range of $10 to $70 but a woman’s reproductive rights advocate appearing on this morning’s Bill Press Show put the average cost at $50.
Taking everything into consideration, the best decision would have been to follow the scientific consensus on pill safety and make the morning after pill available to anyone faced with the prospect of an unwanted pregnancy.