The American Academy of Pediatrics is urging its 60,000-plus members and the nation’s other pediatricians to tell their adolescent patients about available emergency contraception options and to write advance prescriptions for the “morning after pill” for girls younger than 17 who want them.
Reuters reported that the AAP’s decision, revealed Monday, to take a side in the highly divisive issue and advocate on behalf of increased accessibility for teens to contraceptives puts the organization at odds with many religious and traditional Americans who oppose the pill on moral grounds, considering it a form of birth control that encourages sexual promiscuity among teens.
Despite a decline in teen pregnancies in recent decades, the AAP cited a continuation of “substantially higher teen birth rates” in the United Sates when compared to the rates of other developed countries.
Under current federal policy, over-the-counter morning after pills cannot be sold to girls younger than 17.
The ban is supported by the current administration. Last December, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled a Food and Drug Administration proposal that the Plan B One-Step pill should be sold to girls 16 and younger without a prescription.
By having a prescription for emergency contraception on hand, the AAP argues, teens would have greater accessibility to measures that could prevent unwanted pregnancies.
“Pediatricians can play an important role in counseling patients and providing prescriptions for teens in need of emergency contraception . . . Adolescents are more likely to use emergency contraception if it’s prescribed in advance. Many teens continue to engage in unprotected sexual intercourse, and as many as 10 percent are victims of sexual assault,” said the AAP in a press release.
The decision was welcomed by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and its CEO Bill Alpert.
“It's just common sense that requiring a prescription is a barrier . . . If an august and respected medical group like AAP is suggesting providing emergency contraception to minors is OK, that is a big deal,” said Alpert.
Common forms of oral contraceptive include Plan B and Plan B One-Step, which according to maker Teva Pharmaceuticals stops a pregnancy by preventing ovulation rather than aborting a developing fetus. In contrast, Mifeprex, or RU486, which contains a synthetic steroid, aborts a fetus’ development in the first seven weeks of a pregnancy.
Plan B and Plan B One-Step should be taken within 24 hours of intercourse, though both have been shown to work up to 120 hours after sex, and will have no effect in woman who are already pregnant.
Though the AAP cannot require primary care pediatricians it represents to follow its recommendations, Dr. Cora Breuner, a Seattle Children's Hospital pediatrician who participated in the AAP panel responsible for the advisory said, “We do hope that pediatricians read the policy statement and follow the recommendations.”
Breuner’s sentiments are echoed in the AAP’s overall policy statement which says all pediatricians “have a duty to inform their patients about relevant, legally available treatment options," even those "to which they object.”
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