Mark Wilson/Getty Images
File photo: Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius speaks during a news conference, on November 14, 2011 in Washington, DC. The HHS has rejected a FDA request to make emergency contraception available to people under 16.
On Wednesday, the Health and Human Services secretary refused to allow emergency contraception to be sold over-the-counter for women under the age of 16, publicly rejecting a Food and Drug Administration request for the first time ever.
Health secretary Kathleen Sebelius stated there needs to be "enough evidence to show that those who use this medicine can understand the label and use the product appropriately." But women's sexual health groups in support of over-the-counter emergency contraception say this limits the options of young women, and could impact abortion rates.
Nicknamed the "morning after pill," Plan B One-Step cuts the chances of getting pregnant in half. It uses the same hormone as a regular birth control pill to decrease chances of unintended pregnancy.
Sneha Barot, senior public policy associate at the Guttmacher Institute, said Sebelius based her statement on whether 11-year-old girls could use the emergency contraceptive without proper guidance. Less than 1 percent of 11-year-olds are sexually active, while 43 percent have had sexual intercourse by the age of 17. According to Barot, though some females reach reproductive capacity at age 11, the focus should be on 15- and 16-year-old adolescents.
Currently, options for girls who can't get the contraceptive over-the-counter are few. They can either reach out to Planned Parenthood, or call their doctor for a prescription. "It places an extra burden on women and girls ... [if] it's not available in grocery stores, on shelves of other retailers right alongside condoms and pregnancy kits," Barot said.
Barot said convenience is a big factor in whether or not someone will use Plan B. "It's meant to be a backup birth control method, and if it's more easily available, it's more likely it will be taken," she said.
Sneha Barot, Senior Public Policy Associate at the Guttmacher Institute.