Theres Got to Be a Morning After

Emergency contraception may go over-the-counter

Next month—if the religious right is right and you're lucky—will be the month of love. That's when Food and Drug Administration commissioner Mark B. McClellan is likely to make Plan B emergency contraception available over the counter nationwide. If he does, some Christians warn, mad sex will follow.

Unlike most oral contraceptives, the pills marketed under the trade name Plan B work after you've had unprotected sex—if you take them quickly. The Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology suggests Plan B can stop a pregnancy if taken up to 72 hours after unprotected sex. Most doctors recommend taking Plan B within the first 24 hours, preferably immediately after intercourse.

The controversial little white pill—otherwise known as Levonorgestrel—is composed primarily of progestin, the synthetic hormone and active ingredient in most female oral contraception. Depending on where the user is in her menstrual cycle, Levonorgestrel prevents pregnancy by inhibiting ovulation, thickening the cervical mucus, or thinning the uterine lining.

Plan B is already available without a prescription in five states, including California. FDA approval would make it available throughout the United States immediately—over the counter, without a prescription.

The idea of sex first and questions later has religious conservatives lathered up—and not in a good way. They've launched a two-pronged attack, arguing that Plan B is harmful both physically and morally.

"Promoters of the pill profit at the expense of women's health," the conservative Christian group Concerned Women for America told the FDA in December, just before an advisory committee voted 23-4 to approve over-the-counter sales of Plan B. Several pro-life websites claim making Plan B available over the counter will encourage minors "to engage in risky sexual activity."

Still other Christian groups, arguing that life starts before a zygote begins growing in the uterine wall, call Plan B "chemical abortion" and "an act of direct killing." They predict that "as [this] killing becomes more accessible and more widespread, the harm caused to society is incalculable."

But at least one local pharmacist—a Mormon—has made peace with Plan B.

"I feel comfortable with it. There's a lot of things I sell here that I don't agree with, but it's not my decision to make," said the Orange County pharmacist, who requested anonymity. "I'm not forcing [anyone] to take it. I'm Mormon, but I shouldn't have to force my beliefs on anyone."

Indeed, he says, his decision to sell Plan B is sanctioned by his faith. "Deeply rooted in my religious belief is the freedom to choose," he said. "Taking away someone's free agency is the greatest sin in the Mormon Church."

But what about the children?

"Abstinence doesn't work," he said. "[Emergency contraception] gives women an option and a choice to prevent unwanted pregnancy."

He scoffs at claims that easy access to emergency contraception will encourage little Virgin Marys to become Mary Magdalenes.

"People said the same thing when we started selling condoms over the counter," he said. "Did it make people more promiscuous? No. There are a lot of things we were told not to do as young people that we did anyway."

 
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