Should pediatricians prescribe emergency contraception to teens who’ve had unprotected sex? A group of health experts believe so.
In a new policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics, doctors are being urged to not only talk to teens about emergency contraception, but also be ready to provide prescriptions in case their young patients have had unprotected sex or their birth control method fails.
“Pediatricians really need to talk about emergency contraception when talking to teenagers at the well-child visit,” said Cora Collette Breuner, MD, lead author of the paper and professor of pediatrics at Seattle’s Children’s Hospital and the University of Washington, to Health.com. “They shouldn’t skirt around it. This is like talking about seat belts and texting-while-driving.”
While the new policy emphasizes the best way to prevent unwanted pregnancies is using proper birth control, it does recommend doctors to provide prescriptions of levonorgestrel and ulipristal, also known as “the morning-after pill.” These products do not terminate an existing pregnancy, but it can reduce the risk if used up to 120 hours (five days) after unprotected sex or birth control failure due to condom breakage, missed or late doses of hormonal birth control, as well as sexual assault.
The statement, which insists “adolescents are more likely to use emergency contraception if it has been prescribed in advance of need,” also says the purpose of the updated policy is to further encourage routine counseling as a means to reduce teen pregnancy.
The new recommendations have already garnered praise, especially for the potential benefits it can provide to the Hispanic community.
“We’re really excited about these new recommendations because we hope they will make it easier for young Latinas to get information and access to emergency contraception,” says Kimberly Inez McGuire, Senior Policy Analyst for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH), a national organization advocating sexual health education. “We know currently there are age restrictions and ID requirements, making it harder for young women to access to EC. We’re hoping more information and access will improve the community.”
Even though teen pregnancies in the U.S. have decreased over the past 20 years, the rate is still high with nearly 80% of pregnancies being unintended between those ages 15-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Hispanics have the highest rate among all groups.
Despite rising numbers, some may feel educating teens on the morning-after pill could encourage more sexual activity and challenge religious households.
“The new guidelines published by the American Academy of Pediatrics urging doctors to speak with teens about getting emergency contraception, including Plan B, and subsequent access to prescriptions undermines both parental rights and ecclesiastical authority,” says Reverend Samuel Rodriguez, President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC). “There is a difference between information dissemination and advocacy. While educating teens with the necessary information regarding sexual activity is critical, these guidelines usurp the role of the family and spiritual leadership.”
McGuire also believes more education is needed.
“We know the lack of information about sexual health is part of why we see such high rates of unintended pregnancies within our community,” she explains. “And that’s because young women aren’t getting enough information from their schools. They may not be getting enough information from their health provider and they may be getting misinformation. So there are certainly some issues in our community.”
The statement is published in the December issue of Pediatrics.