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Is the morning-after pill just an issue of freedom?

About Luis Fábregas
Picture Luis Fábregas 412-320-7998
Medical Editor
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Luis Fábregas is an award-winning reporter who specializes in medical and healthcare issues as a member of the Tribune-Review’s investigations team.

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By Luis Fábregas

Published: Saturday, June 15, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

When I needed Sudafed to fight a cold this winter, a pharmacy technician behind the Wal-Mart pharmacy counter demanded my driver's license.

“Not that I think you have a meth lab in your basement,” she added with a smirk.

As if that's what I had in mind when I could hardly breathe.

But the technician was merely following federal law, which requires an ID to buy cold medicines that contain an ingredient called pseudoephedrine. The stuffy nose reliever also can be used to make crystal meth, an addictive drug that can be smoked, snorted or injected.

In the near future, school-aged children will be able to go to the same counter to buy emergency contraception. No ID, no prescription, no questions. That's right, I can't get cold medicine without ID, but tweens could get the morning-after pill without the consent or knowledge of their parents.

If that sounds absurd, it's because access to emergency contraception without a prescription is a very sharp, double-edged sword. The Obama administration reignited debate over the pill this week when it said it will no longer object to the sale of the Plan B One-Step brand of emergency contraception. The administration had previously fought a ruling by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that allowed the pill's availability without a doctor's order.

The inevitable debate that has ensued is highly emotional and filled with so much rhetoric, it's hard to know who's telling the truth. For every fact, there is an argument. For every argument, there is outrage.

Leading doctors, including the influential American Academy of Pediatrics, say the morning-after pill is safe. Critics, however, say high doses of the hormone progestin in the pills have the potential to harm young girls.

Throw in the word abortion, and the debate escalates. For the record, Plan B prevents ovulation or fertilization of an egg, and scientists have said it doesn't cause abortion.

My worries about Plan B are far removed from the politics of abortion. It's more about the message this decision is sending society, especially our children. It's almost as if we're saying teenagers are just fine without parental guidance, and we don't need to teach them about the medical and moral issues of sexual behavior.

Those who support the use of the morning-after pill say women should have the right to control their bodies without having to ask a doctor or a pharmacist. True. But if we have the right to control our bodies and ingest drugs without medical advice, why not sell steroids and opioids over the counter? Should we ignore their potentially harmful side-effects simply because we have the right to do whatever we want to our bodies?

One fascinating aspect of Plan B is that while it has the potential to curb unintended pregnancies, it could push up the rate of sexually transmitted diseases. In the United Kingdom, a study found that increased access to Plan B among teens was linked to a higher rate of STDs in that age group.

Perhaps the government's time would be better spent devising a public service campaign using teen entertainment stars to help educate their peers on the issues and risks.

Luis Fábregas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at




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