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Girls should not be denied legal access to contraception

Published: Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, April 4, 2012 00:04

A Boston University School of Medicine study found that nearly one in five pharmacies report that it is “impossible” for 17-year-old girls to buy emergency contraception, despite their legal right to do so.

Researchers called 943 commercial pharmacies last month posing as 17-year-old girls and asked if it was possible to receive emergency contraception that day.

Whether the pharmacy technicians, pharmacists and unidentified pharmacy employees did not know that emergency contraception was legal for 17-year-olds without a prescription or chose not to inform teenagers of this, the study illustrates a definite problem with teens’ access to emergency contraception.

Just as with adults, pills like Plan B and Next Choice help reduce teen pregnancies, an issue that is prevalent in the U.S. and in Hillsborough County. According to the researchers who conducted the experiment, approximately 750,000 teen pregnancies occur in the U.S. each year and 85 percent are unintentional.

Planned Parenthood’s 2004 statistics found that 2,078 teen pregnancies that year in Hillsborough County created an estimated cost of $42,702,000 in taxpayer money for public health care, child welfare, incarceration and “lost tax revenue due to decreased earnings and spending.”

The most disheartening part about the study is the fact that teens who are unable to get the pill are risking pregnancy, despite their efforts to prevent it. The pill works best to prevent sperm from ovulating the egg if taken quickly. According to the researchers, chances of pregnancy increase by 50 percent for every 12 hours after the event.

Leaving girls to their own devices could lead to not only an increase in teen pregnancy, but also an increase in abortion. Abortion is a far more expensive and controversial issue than taking emergency contraception.

Though it is possible that the pharmacy employees did not know that emergency contraception was available for 17-year-olds, this seems unlikely. The researchers also called the same pharmacies pretending to be doctors asking on behalf of a 17-year-old and were only incorrectly told 3 percent of the time that contraceptive would not be available.

Researchers also noted that if girls were told the first time that it was legally impossible to receive the pill, they would be unlikely to call other pharmacies.

Though many pharmacy workers may have personal beliefs about emergency contraception, it is important that employees are aware of the differences between pills like Plan B and RU-486, the abortion pill. Girls 16 and under can also take the pill with a doctor’s prescription.

It is necessary that the public become aware of this legal right for teens. Preventing unwanted pregnancies saves tax dollars and prevents a life-changing event from happening to a minor.

Regardless of the reasons why pharmacy employees informed girls the pill was unavailable, they need to be informed of their legal right and act accordingly, in the best interest of the whole community.

Jessica Schoenfeld is a sophomore majoring in sociology.

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