Moving on from Plan B

By Michelle Chen Mar 24, 2009

A federal court decision yesterday ordering the Food and Drug Administration to revisit a longstanding age restriction on “Plan B” emergency contraception could unblock a crucial birth-control option for underserved youth. The court found that the FDA’s 2006 decision to bar women under 18 from obtaining Plan B was driven by “political and ideological” considerations at the expense of sound science. Under new FDA leadership, the decision could set in motion more changes in reproductive health care access on the federal level. Youth of color face extraordinary barriers to reproductive health: a lack of community awareness about sexuality issues, economic inequality, a paucity of health resources, and an impoverished education system. Racial disparities permeate infection patterns of sexually transmitted disease and HIV/AIDS. Condom use is somewhat higher among Black high school youth, but Black and Latino youth use birth control pills at a significantly lower rate than whites do. Research also indicates that young people of color may be alienated from the health care system by stigma or fear, on top of the cultural, linguistic and cost barriers, revealing the need for culturally competent programs and services. Bringing reproductive justice to communities of color remains a sisyphusian task. On issues of informed consent and political empowerment, legal changes in contraceptive access may play out very differently across lines of race and economic privilege. But from Washington’s policymaking circles all the way down to the teenager walking into her neighborhood clinic for the first time—starting the conversation makes a difference. Image: Listen Up!