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Soc Sci Med. 2008 Aug;67(4):618-27. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2008.04.016. Epub 2008 Jun 5.

The impact of over-the-counter availability of "Plan B" on teens' contraceptive decision making.

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  • 1Carnegie Mellon University, Social and Decision Sciences, 208 Porter Hall, 5000 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, United States.


In ruling on the over-the-counter status (OTC) of the emergency contraceptive, "Plan B", the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) questioned whether younger adolescent females could adequately self-select and self-medicate. That determination requires a judgment of fact, regarding how increased emergency contraceptive availability would affect adolescents' behavior, and a judgment of values, regarding the acceptability of different outcomes. We present a general approach to such problems, using analytical and empirical methods grounded in behavioral decision research. We illustrate it with findings from 30 in-depth interviews and follow-up surveys, with adolescent females aged 13-19 in the Pittsburgh area reporting how Plan B availability would affect three decisions (having sex, choosing contraceptives, using Plan B). Although the FDA expressed concern about younger teens using Plan B as their primary form of contraception, neither younger nor older teens revealed such an intention. However, teens preferred easier availability, should emergency contraceptive be needed. Incorporating an understanding of teens' decision-related perspectives can make such policies more predictable and transparent.

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