The Plan B Debate: What You Need To Know

WARNING: This installment of “What You Need To Know” is going to talk about sex and contraception. I’m going to talk about it pretty frankly and possibly use words that could make people uncomfortable. But this is information I think is pretty important for people to have and an issue I think readers need to be informed on. I will add another warning: This is not entirely a neutral article. I support one side of the debate and there is some pretty blantant feminism in this post. You’ve been warned.

Right now, there’s a massive debate going on about the drug known as Plan B, an emergency contraceptive pill. Plan B in the US is available without a prescription for men and women 17 and older, but you still have to go to the pharmacy counter to buy it. It’s possible to get it in prescription form if you’re 16 or younger.

There has been a push, for years, to make Plan B available Over the Counter (OTC), meaning you can just pick it up off the shelves at the store and buy it. And recently, it looked like that was going to happen…

…until Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and President Barak Obama stepped in and overturned the FDA’s decision to allow Plan B OTC.


Plan B is what is called an “Emergency Contraceptive.” IT IS NOT THE “ABORTION PILL.” That is RU-486 and is another conversation ENTIRELY. The only reason I’m bringing it up is because people very often confuse the two and they do very, very different things.

Plan B is very much like regular oral contraceptives/birth control pills. Both are hormonal and they take preventative action to keep you from getting pregnant, largely by keeping sperm from being able to join with an egg. Plan B is a concentrated dose of hormones meant to be taken within 72 hours of having unprotected sex. It won’t work if you’re already pregnant.


As I already mentioned, it’s possible for anyone 17 or older to get Plan B by visiting a pharmacy and asking for it. The FDA, however, was pushing for relaxing restrictions on Plan B for a number of reasons: the biggest one being that if someone under 17 needs the pill and can’t get a prescription fast enough, they could end up pregnant despite trying to prevent it. Doctors can’t always see patients immediately, and you really only have a small window to get the pill.

Secretary Sebelius and President Obama, however, have stated concerns that young women could gain access to the pill and use it incorrectly. They specifically cited girls as young as 11 years old being able to buy Plan B without restriction.


It seems that the final decision reached is one that is looking to protect young girls and that’s understandable. However, as has been pointed out, there are many other medications available OTC that can do potentially more harm if used incorrectly, including Tylenol. It seems hypocritical to allow these medicines to be sold OTC, but not Plan B.

Many critics of this choice have said the choice has a more sinister reason: to punish women for having sex.


The problem is that there is a very, very negative picture painted of women who take Plan B, or of young women who have sex at all: uncontrolled “bad girls” who should just keep their legs closed instead of reaching for emergency contraceptives (or in some cases, contraceptives at all) and deserved to be “punished” with pregnancy for their discretions. There’s a ton of really horrible things involved here, including

  • stereotyping
  • slut shaming
  • looking at sex as a purely procreative act (meaning you only have sex to make babies and/or that doing it because it’s fun or you enjoy it is somehow wrong)
  • considering pregnancy as a “punishment” (seriously, how messed up is that? I don’t even WANT kids and I know that’s messed up)

There’s a lot of people who think that girls who step out of line and have sex can and should be punished, and they do a lot of things like trying to take away access to Plan B or even regular homormonal birth control (the pill, the patch, the ring, etc.), making it harder for women (especially young and/or poor women) to get to women’s health facilities (like Planned Parenthood or other clinics) and more.

Basically, the blocking of OTC Plan B looks like just another example of how messed up our society can be regarding girls and sex.


One of the biggest issues that needs to be brought up here are cases of incest and rape. Girls under 17 may experience either of these and be unable or unwilling to report them to someone, and may not be able to get to a doctor for a prescription. While it’s sad that we live in a world where people feel they can’t report these sorts of abuses, do we really think girls in this situation should also possibly be forced to carry pregnanies to term as a result of incest or rape? Shouldn’t we give them the opportunity to prevent this sort of thing from happening?

Well, that would mean making Plan B available to them without the need of a doctor’s signature or parental permission. Think about that.


RH Reality Check has been doing a ton of coverage on the issue.

You can keep up with the Google News feed on Plan B as the situation continues.