Empire editorial: There's no reason for state to curtail morning-after pill

Posted: Friday, July 08, 2005

Typically when the topic of a woman's right to choose comes up in public discourse people's brains lock into their old, rigid channels and civility vanishes. It's been a long time since this country seriously questioned the right to choose contraception, though, which is why it's puzzling that now the state of Alaska might make birth control more difficult.

The Alaska State Medical Board proposes a rule that would effectively impede the use of emergency contraceptives - the so-called morning-after pill - by all but the most determined women who can afford to see a doctor quickly. The board would begin requiring a prescription, which means making an appointment to see a doctor while the clock is ticking. The hormonal treatment, not to be confused with the RU486 "abortion pill," is essentially a high-dose version of oral contraceptives. Its effectiveness tapers off over time, up to some 120 hours. The woman who is raped, experiences a broken condom or regrets a mistake would have to hope for a quick appointment and be prepared to cover the cost.

Under current regulations, a woman wishing to obtain emergency contraceptives may do so after an interview with a pharmacist who periodically consults with a doctor about criteria for dispensing the $40 drug. That interview is said to take 10 to 20 minutes. It is a humane process that the state has shown no good reason for abandoning.

One advantage of making the treatment readily available is clear: It has the potential for decreasing the incidence of abortion. This is not something that Alaskans need to fight about.

The morning-after pill is perfectly legal in Alaska. The state should not now begin to treat it as a controlled substance.

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