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Plan B ruling could halt confusion with isle law


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POSTED: Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A federal judge's order to the Food and Drug Administration to make Plan B morning-after birth control pills available to 17-year-old girls may help eliminate some confusion over Hawaii's law, says a Planned Parenthood of Hawaii spokeswoman.

The FDA has 30 days to comply with the U.S. District Court's order, which called the procedure for approving the drug “;arbitrary”; and “;capricious.”;

The Bush administration set 18 as the age limit for the pills, which became available without a prescription in November 2006. They're described as “;over the counter,”; but women must ask for them at the counter.

Under Hawaii's law, teens 14 and up may obtain the pills without a prescription after a brief process at a pharmacy. They must answer a series of questions and undergo consultation with the pharmacist, who writes a prescription.

Because of the national law, however, many islanders — including some pharmacists — believe girls must be 18 or older to get the pills, said Katie Reardon, Planned Parenthood vice president for public affairs and government.

“;They don't always know there's an exception,”; she said. “;We know teens in Hawaii, even though they can get emergency contraception at pharmacies, have been turned away or told they need to get a prescription. Or they're told by other sources they're not available.”;

Jackie Berry, executive director of the Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition, said: “;Obviously, it's an important access-to-care issue for teenagers. For the second year in a row, our teen pregnancy rate has gone up.”;

Teen pregnancy rates had declined across the country until 2006, when they rose for the first time in about 15 years, according to a national report in January.

Hawaii's teen birthrate rose 12 percent — from 36.2 births per 1,000 females age 15 to 19 in 2005 to 40.5 births for that group in 2006, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

“;We're discouraged about the unintended pregnancy rate and the teen pregnancy rate,”; Berry said, adding that the coalition's board has been discussing what to do about it.

An educational campaign is needed but funding isn't available in this tight economy, she said. “;Certainly we're very supportive of access for teenagers and I wish we had some money to do some public relations about it,”; she said.

The Health Department allocates federal abstinence-only funds of about $162,787 per year to the Boys and Girls Clubs statewide and about $600,000 to Catholic Charities in a community-based grant.

But Terri Byers, chief of the Maternal and Child Health Branch, said, “;We continue to support comprehensive reproductive health education and access to contraceptive services to help our youth protect their health and well-being.”;

Berry said the Department of Education's sex education classes present a full range of options.

Plan B emergency contraception pills contain a strong dose of synthetic hormones that disrupt the hormonal patterns needed for ovulation, fertilization and the attachment of the egg to the lining of the uterus. The pills can prevent pregnancy by up to 89 percent when taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex or a failed contraception method.

Opponents argue that increased access to the pills would lead to promiscuity.

Reardon said the emergency contraception is effective, safe, healthy and “;not invasive in any way. “;It's a good choice for women to back up birth control that may have failed.”;

There's no evidence that the pills interfere with an established pregnancy, she said. “;It works the same way as everyday birth control, in a higher dose. It is not an abortion pill.”;