The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that doctors should be suggesting and prescribing the morning-after pill during the routine check-ups of sexually active teenage women.
The pill is also known by its brand names, Plan B and Next Choice, and has been a source of controversy among health officials as well as some parents.
In a recently released policy statement, the medical organization said it encourages the education and use of emergency contraception among teens, even more since its last policy statement on the subject in 2005.
“The data are even more supportive of emergency contraception,” said lead study author Dr. Cora Bruener from the University of Washington. "These methods are absolutely not an abortion. They prevent pregnancies by blocking fertilization.”
Similar to the controversies surrounding the distribution of condoms in high schools, some parents believe that providing contraception before teenagers ask for it will encourage them to start having sex. Some also believe that it shows approval of their actions if teens are having sex already.
However, Bruener says this concern is completely unfounded based on a series of studies she has come across.
“People say that if you make this available that kids will have more sex and less protected sex, and that is not true," she said. “Seven studies showed that is not true”.
Critics of AAP’s policy statement may point to the fact that teen pregnancy is at an all-time low, according to recent data.
And some may question why the drug needs to be officially incorporated into regular physician visits, if it seems that teens are being more cautious when it comes to engaging in sex or having unprotected intercourse.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), teen pregnancy has seen an 8 percent drop since 2010. In addition, birth rates diminished by 11 percent among women 15 through 17 and dropped 7 percent for women 18 and 19 years of age.
In the United States children under the age of 17 need a prescription to get emergency contraception, and according to the AAP’s policy statement, the medical organization believes all teens need an equal amount of counseling and access to the drug, regardless of age.
However the AAP also stresses in its statement that counseling along with prescriptions for the pill are equally important, and urges includes frank discussions about how the drug should really be used.
“The discussion of emergency contraception methods with patients must also include the fact that none of these methods will protect from sexually-transmitted infections,” the statement reads.
Emergency contraception--which often gets confused with what’s known as the abortion pill mifepristone--can prevent a women from becoming pregnant if taken within five days of intercourse, and the cost is relatively cheap varying between $10 and $70.
Earlier this year, New York City began issuing Plan B pills to students through schools' nurse’s offices, which caused a bit of backlash among some parents. But according to the city’s Health Department, only between 1 and 2 percent of the parents sent back a form indicating they wanted to opt out of the program and didn’t want their children to receive emergency contraception.
In the policy statement, the AAP suggests that all forms of contraception and teen sex in general need to be discussed even more openly, and although teen pregnancy numbers have declined a bit, proper education can bring the percentages down even further.
“If we are going to do anything about reducing our teen pregnancy rate and make it not the highest in the developed world, we need to provide more education to family and children,” said Bruener.
According to Planned Parenthood, the morning-after pill reduces pregnancy by 89 percent when taken within 72 hours after intercourse and becomes less effective the later one takes it.
The non-profit agency also says there have been no reports of severe complications with the drug. Side effects may include nausea and vomiting, however only one out of four women experienced such symptoms.
Other side effects may include dizziness, irregular menstruation, feelings of dizziness, headaches and possible breast tenderness, says Planned Parenthood.
The AAP also said that providing emergency contraception for teens ahead of time is the key component to its being properly used or even used at all, and that pediatricians should use their role in communities to further educate teenagers each time they come in for a routine checkup.
“Adolescents are more likely to use emergency contraception if it has been prescribed in advance of need,” wrote the AAP in its policy statement. “Pediatricians have an important role through their interactions with adolescents to address the major public health objective of continuing to reduce adolescent pregnancy in the United States.”
The AAP’s policy statement was published in the recent online edition of Pediatrics.