Discuss as:

Bioethicist: It's high time for 'morning-after pill' ruling

Thank goodness for the courts. A federal judge has now done what the Obama administration had failed to do — make the “morning-after pill” available without prescription to all girls of reproductive age, including those younger than 17.

The emergency contraception pill works to prevent pregnancy up to 72 hours after sexual intercourse. The Food and Drug Administration, which had begun dragging its feet during the Bush administration over approval of this proven safe medicine, had finally cleared it for over the counter sale after a decade of hemming and hawing about nothing.

But, for reasons having everything to do with politics and nothing to do with science, public health or logic, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled FDA’s approval in December of 2011 and said it could not be sold to girls under the age of 17 without a prescription.

The court has now righted that grave wrong.

Sebelius' decision made no sense. The pill is safe and it works. It will reduce unwanted pregnancies and be of particular help to young women who are raped, abused or coerced into sex.

Critics have made two key arguments against the pill—that it is an abortion agent and that it will encourage sex.  Neither claim holds a thimble-full of science or logic.

Scientifically, emergency contraception works by prohibiting ovulation or by prohibiting the implantation of an embryo into the lining of the uterus.  If an embryo has not implanted it cannot be aborted since it never had a chance to become anything.  Emergency contraception is only an abortion in the eyes of those blind to how reproduction works.

And as for encouraging sex, there is no reason to think that girls, some of whom are already sexually active, will be joined by hordes more who will feel free to fool around because there is a pill anymore than there is to think that condoms lead to more underage sex.

The battle over the "morning-after pill" has done nothing to solve the real problem about teenage sex -- the inability of this country to talk about sex. We don’t have enough sound sexual education in our schools, too many of our religious leaders are not effective or credible in spreading wisdom about virtue, responsibility and sex and, a lot of parents fail when it comes to engaging their kids about sex if for no reason other than what they were themselves doing at 14, 15 and 16.

As the judge noted, there is no reason whatsoever to hold this pill hostage to politicians’ whims.  It is safe, it works, and it gives a woman who has no other choice, due to contraceptive failure, abuse or rape, a way to avoid an unwanted pregnancy.  It ought to be stocked in every emergency room, pharmacy, and police station.  And your politicians and clergy should try harder to figure out how to teach our children about sexuality and sexual responsibility without making fools of themselves over a pill.

Arthur Caplan, Ph.D., is the head of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center.

Related stories:

Judge: Make 'morning-after pill' available to all girls without prescription