Yesterday, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius rejected the decision made by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) to make emergency contraception (EC)–often known as Plan B, after the drug brand name Plan B One-Step–available to women of all ages without a prescription. This decision will maintain a harsh status quo for young women, who were excluded when EC was made available to women aged 17+ without a prescription in 2009 and whose likelihood to be uninsured make it extremely burdensome, if not impossible, for them to obtain a prescription for EC within the limited timeframe after intercourse during which EC is effective.
Because of immigration status, lack of insurance, residence in rural areas, and other structural barriers to accessing health care and services, young Latinas will be particularly affected by failures to increase access to EC, which represents only the latest instance of mixed messages sent to women about their rights and place in society. Latina teens are pregnant at higher rates than their peers, and the pregnancy rate for young Latinas has fallen more slowly than for other teen populations. In 2005, over 230,000 women aged 15-17 became pregnant and over half of them gave birth; in the same year, 15,000 young women under the age of 15 became pregnant, over 40% of whom gave birth.
This is the case because not only can many young women not access Plan B, but also because they also are not presented with a Plan A. Empirical studies document higher pregnancy rates in schools with abstinence-only sex education, yet many states do not acknowledge this fact or are just starting to. For instance, Texas, a state in which Latinos comprise over one-third of the population, has long been a devotee of abstinence-only sex education. Recent gains, though small, in abstinence-plus education are cause for celebration, but are far from enough to reverse years of failing to ensure that young women have comprehensive evidence-based sex education.