Pro-choice or pro-life, legal age or not, emergency contraception is a controversial topic. The Colorado House of Representatives is debating House Bill 1212, a bill that would give pharmacists the authority to prescribe Plan B, an emergency contraception.
Plan B, the most popular and most widely used emergency contraception, consists of two pills a woman can take up to 72 hours after unprotected sex. Each pill contains .75 milligrams of levonorgestrel, said Devin Koontz, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) public affairs specialist for Denver and the surrounding region. Levonorgestrel is the same synthetic hormone found in birth control pills.
The pill works in preventing pregnancy three ways.
"It prevents ovulation, implantation or fertilization," said Daniel Kessler, public affairs coordinator for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.
Currently there are other emergency contraception methods beside Plan B that have FDA approval, Koontz said.
HOW YOUNG IS TOO YOUNG?
One main focus of controversy regarding the bill would be its availability to women under the age of 18.
Rep. Betty Boyd, D-Lakewood and House sponsor of HB 1212, said that if women under the age of 18 are having sex, they should have access to a backup plan.
"These kids have already made the decision to be sexually active," she said.
But others feel that such wide availability of the morning after pill will result in reckless and careless sexual activity among teenagers.
"I think every form of contraception kind of increases sexual activity in teens," said Jessica Moore, sophomore human development and family studies major. She added that people could have a nonchalant attitude; they can just go to the store and get the morning after pill.
A study by the University of Pittsburg found that teenagers are not more inclined to have unprotected sex just because emergency contraceptives were available. The study, published in the April 2004 issue of the Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology, followed more than 300 women between the ages of 15 and 20 for six months and found the more educated the women were, the more they used emergency contraception.
One of Lundberg's problems with the bill is that he thinks it sends the wrong message. Recently a group of high school students spoke before the House saying that the morning after pill reduces the consequences for people's actions.
One of the reasons the FDA has not yet approved letting pharmacists prescribe E.C. is because they don't have enough data to prove that women under the age of 18 have the responsibility to obtain and use such a drug, especially without their physician's knowledge.
Boyd said that if women that age are having sex, they are responsible enough to have access to emergency contraception.
"Well, they are having sex without their doctor knowing about it," she said. "It gives women some level of control over their health care."
PRO-LIFE VS. PRO-CHOICE
Is Plan B a contraceptive or an abortive medication?
This question is swirling around lawmakers as they grapple with HB 1212.
Kessler said the medical definition of pregnancy is when a fertilized egg is implanted in the uterine wall and Plan B can prevent that.
Rep. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, has been a leading opponent on bills like HB 1212 for four years and feels that emergency contraception can be an abortion method.
"Is it an abortive medicine? At times it is." he said. "After fertilization, we have a second life."
But Kessler and Boyd view Plan B as a backup contraceptive.
"Emergency contraception is a safe, effective way to prevent pregnancy," Kessler said. "In instances of sexual assault or contraceptive failure, it's an excellent backup for unwanted pregnancy."
A male CSU student said if he slept with a woman and she took E.C., he would want to know beforehand but ultimately, the decision should be left up to her.
"(Plan B) is the best and easiest prevention," said Jordan Wolfsohn, freshman music major. "It's ultimately the woman's decision and I don't want to tell her what to do with her body."
HB 1212 does not include the abortive medication known at RU-486.
Mifepristone is a medication form of abortion that ends pregnancy and can be taken up to 9 weeks into a pregnancy, Kessler said.
But pro-life supporters like Lundberg don't support abortion, even if a woman has been raped.
"I know many people would consider that a harsh response," he said.
HEALTHY VS. HARMFUL
Proponents and opponents of HB 1212 are equally concerned about how this could affect a woman's health.
With no clause in the bill to provide for record keeping, there is no way to track how often and how much of the drug women purchase.
But Boyd doesn't think Plan B will fly off the shelves.
"Any responsible woman is not going to buy backup when they're using something else," Boyd said. "Given the cost, they aren't going to be spending $20 to $40 every other weekend. It's less expensive to be on a regimen of birth control."
Regarding the health aspect, Boyd said Plan B is "much safer because it doesn't have estrogen."
Recently lawmakers heard one argument saying Plan B is just as safe as aspirin, but with such easy access, Lundberg worries the drug could have an adverse affect on a woman's health.
"High doses of hormones, progesterone to be precise, have a significant impact on a person's body," Lundberg said.
Moore said she doesn't think it is a healthy decision for women to pick up and use a drug on their own.
"I don't think (Plan B) should (be sold over-the-counter), there's health risks with that and doctors should know about it," Moore said. "Pharmacists don't know your background."
"TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE"
Even if HB 1212 makes it through the House and the Senate, the bill ultimately awaits a decision from the FDA.
Boyd thinks the politics involved is resulting in people at the FDA "dragging their feet" on the issue.
But the FDA cites the other reason for halting the over-the-counter application is because the application was "incomplete and inadequate" to allow women over the age of 16 to purchase Plan B while women younger than 16 would need a prescription, according to the FDA's Web site.
Kessler, Boyd and others are pursuing a sooner rather than later stance. Kessler said 800,000 abortions could be prevented each year if Plan B was allowed to be prescribed by pharmacists.
"Time is of the essence," Boyd said, including that if something happens Friday night and a woman can't get in to see her physician until Monday, "then it's already too late."
Cari Merrill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org