Emergency contraception for teens urged by doctors

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WASHINGTON -- U.S. teenagers should be given prescriptions for emergency contraception to keep on hand in case they ever need it, the American Academy of Pediatrics said Monday.

Emergency contraception, such as Teva Pharmaceutical Industries's Plan B One Step, should be given to teens directly ahead of time, or they should get prescriptions that will allow them to have access to the drugs as needed, the doctors' group said in a policy statement online.

The pills are available now without a prescription to females 17 and older and males 18 and older. A Food and Drug Administration move to allow emergency contraception to be sold over the counter to girls younger than 17 was rejected by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in December 2011. The academy encouraged pediatricians to push for increased non-prescription access.

"The point of this whole piece would be to reduce unintended pregnancy," said Cora Breuner, a member of the academy's committee on adolescence, who was a lead author of the statement.

The academy didn't discuss the age at which teenagers should be given advance prescriptions, said Dr. Breuner, a physician at Seattle Children's Hospital. The group suggests that pediatricians have discussions with their patients about sexual activity, and give prescriptions to those who are active.

"Emergency contraception is most effective in decreasing risk of pregnancy when used as soon as possible," the doctor's group said in the statement.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said last week that oral contraceptives should be available without a prescription.

Condoms in addition to hormonal contraception or an intrauterine device are the best ways for teens to avoid pregnancy, the pediatricians' group said. Almost 80 percent of pregnancies in teens are unintended, resulting from contraceptive failure or nonuse, according to the statement, which is to be published next month in the journal Pediatrics.

"I'm pleased that the academy recognizes the need for adolescents to have access to emergency contraception," Janet Crepps, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said. "It's not the final solution; it's a step along the road to unrestricted access to emergency contraception for all women."

The center is awaiting a federal judge's ruling in New York City on its lawsuit against Ms. Sebelius and the FDA to allow over-the-counter access to emergency contraception regardless of age.

"If we don't have the court ruling before, then the anniversary of Sebelius' ruling will be a teachable moment for us to remind the administration why it was bad," Kirsten Moore, president and chief executive officer of the Reproductive Health Technologies Project, said.

Ms. Moore said her Washington. D.C.-based organization will release on the Internet stories of adults denied access to emergency contraception because of forgotten identification on their way to the gym or in the confusion of the moment.

Nancy Northup, president of the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, compared the Obama administration at the time of Ms. Sebelius' decision to overturn the FDA to that of then-President George W. Bush. Both were guilty of "playing politics with women's health," she said.

A 2010 review of seven trials of emergency contraception that included teenagers showed that advance prescriptions increased use, while none of the studies showed an increase in sexual activity or decrease in contraceptive use, according to the statement.

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