Should teen girls get access to Plan B before they have sex?

The American Academy of Pediatrics is newly recommending that doctors play a more pro-active role in prescribing the morning-after pill for teenagers

Plan B
(Image credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

It's no secret that children born to teenage mothers are more likely to do poorly in school, suffer from behavioral problems, and become sexually active at a younger age. Though teen pregnancies have fallen overall in the U.S. in the past two decades, America still has the highest teen birthrate among developed countries such as France (where the rate is five times lower) and Canada (two-and-a-half times lower). This week the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a new policy statement recommending that doctors prescribe teens (age 16 and younger) emergency contraceptives like the Plan B pill before they start having sex instead of "waiting until a young patient's 'Plan A' goes awry," says Amina Khan at the Los Angeles Times. The pill slows down the journey of a fertilized egg, preventing it from entering the uterus until sperm die off. Previous research has shown it's as safe to take as aspirin, but nonetheless women under 17 need to obtain a prescription beforehand. (Earlier this year, the Obama administration made the controversial decision to reject a similar Food and Drug Administration recommendation that the morning-after pill be made available to all women without a prescription). The AAP is urging pediatricians to take a more proactive role in prescribing Plan B to teens, but is that really a good idea?

Doctors have a moral obligation: Although some pediatricians may refuse to prescribe teenagers the morning-after pill because of their personal beliefs about sex, they nonetheless "have a duty to inform their patients about relevant, legally available treatment options," even those "to which they object," said the AAP in a statement. Analysis of seven randomized studies of emergency contraception found that having a Plan B prescription did not increase teens' sexual activity or decrease use of other contraceptives as many critics fear. Pediatricians should do their part to limit unwanted pregnancies.

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Chris Gayomali is the science and technology editor for Previously, he was a tech reporter at TIME. His work has also appeared in Men's Journal, Esquire, and The Atlantic, among other places. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.