In a new policy statement released online on Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) officially recommended that physicians consider prescribing teens emergency contraception in advance. This assertion by the AAP follows on the heels of a new recommendation from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) last week that advocated making birth control pills available to women as an over-the-counter medication.
The AAP stated in a press release published ahead of the policy statement that much of the justification for the organization's stance lies in the fact that the "United States continues to see substantially higher teen birth rates compared to other developed countries." Prescribing emergency contraception ahead of time, according to the AAP, may help lower those rates.
What exactly is the AAP recommending?
The AAP is recommending that physicians prescribe emergency contraception, more commonly known as "morning after" pills, to teens, particularly, although not limited to, those that are currently sexually active. Specifically, the AAP is recommending prescribing emergency contraception for those teens who are under the age of 17, as the organization notes that females who are already 17 years of age or older can obtain emergency contraception without a prescription.
What information is the AAP basing its recommendation on?
The AAP has looked at the available research and determined that there is a need for teens to be prescribed the pills in advance in order to try and mitigate the number of unplanned pregnancies, which account for 80 percent of all pregnancies in girls between the ages of 15 and 19. The organization's policy statement cited the need for teens to be protected against improper use or failure of other contraceptive methods, such as condoms, and also made note of the need to protect teens who may be the victims of sexual assault. The AAP also cited research indicating that teens who are prescribed emergency contraception "in advance of need" are more likely to use it if that need presents itself later, as opposed to teens who must ask for emergency contraception after the fact.
What are the risks involved in prescribing emergency contraception in advance?
The biggest risk factor, according to the AAP's policy statement, is the fact that emergency contraception can prevent pregnancy (by preventing ovulation), but not sexually transmitted infections. According to a Reuters report, studies have shown that there is no known correlation between a teenager being given access to emergency contraception and them becoming sexually active any earlier.
What has been the reaction to the AAP's decision to publish this policy statement?
The statement has gotten mostly positive reviews from women's health advocates, including Susan Wood of the Jacobs Institute of Women's Health at George Washington University in Washington, who told Reuters on Monday that the AAP's decision is "significant." Bill Albert, who is the chief program officer of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, also praised the decision, telling the Washington Times that his organization "supports wider access to all birth-control products."
Not everyone is convinced that the AAP's recommendation is a good thing, however. In that same Washington Times piece, Wendy Wright, who is the vice president for government relations at the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, said that "there are too many questions to be answered" before the idea of prescribing emergency contraception to teens should be entertained.
Vanessa Evans is a musician and freelance writer based in Michigan, with a lifelong interest in health and nutrition issues.