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Teen Sex Reality

October 23, 2004

A strong conviction that teenagers should not have sex can leave no room for reality -- like the fact that many teenagers do have sex, no matter what society or their elders say. The Bush administration's simplistic policies for complicated and difficult family planning problems like teen pregnancies looked naive four years ago; their continued application in light of ongoing research looks ridiculous.

Most parents certainly agree with President Bush that teen sex is a bad idea. But even though adults may hector endlessly, an estimated 800,000 teen-age girls still become pregnant every year.

The administration's response has been to sink millions of dollars into abstinence-only education, depleting funds from programs that provide contraception. No surprise then that the administration argues that allowing adolescents easy access to the morning-after pill would only confuse its abstinence message. So earlier this year, when a Food and Drug Administration panel recommended that emergency contraception be available without a prescription, a top agency official overruled the scientists. In most states the drug has stayed off-limits to everyone -- teens and adults -- who can't get to a doctor within 72 hours after unprotected sex or can't afford one.

A recent study by the University of Pittsburgh Medical School found that teens who had emergency contraception on hand were not more likely to have unprotected sex. They were, however, more likely to use the drug correctly to prevent pregnancy. This study confirms other findings and is one reason why most obstetricians and gynecologists back easy access.

The drug's makers are again asking for FDA approval; this time they propose to sell Plan B (the drug's trade name) only to people 16 and older without restrictions. Younger teens would have to consult a physician. The FDA could decide on the request in the coming months. This time maybe science -- and reality -- will trump moral certainty.

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