Plan B, an emergency contraception that should be taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy, will be available over-the-counter to women age 15 and up.
The Tuesday announcement by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) might sound like a win for women's rights organizations but it also means that girls and women who want the pill will have to prove they meet the minimum age requirement.
And that can be a problem for some.
People who request the pill will have to show a driver's license, passport or birth certificate. Most states don't allow people to apply for licenses until they are 16. Even then, fewer than one-third of all 16-year-olds have a license.
"Lowering the age restriction to 15 for over-the-counter access to Plan B One-Step may reduce delays for some young women," Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement, "but it does nothing to address the significant barriers that far too many women of all ages will still find if they arrive at the drugstore without identification or after the pharmacy gates have been closed for the night or weekend."
And studies have shown that minorities are even less likely to have licenses. One reason is that they are more likely to be urban and rely on public transportation.
In the same way that minority rights organizations object to voter ID laws that require voters to produce proof of identification, organizations like the Center for Reproductive Rights say requiring women to prove their age will discriminate against minorities.
In some cases, people without a license also live the furthest from the offices that issue them. A report from the Brennan Center for Justice found, for example, that heavily Hispanic areas of Texas have fewer ID-issuing offices than parts of the state where Latinos make up a small percentage of the population.
And as The Nation noted, passports and birth certificates aren't any easier to get ahold of if you're a teenager.
"Teens who don't have access to a government ID would not have any easier a time procuring a passport or birth certificate," wrote Jessica Valenti. "If a girl had either of those documents, it's most likely that her parents would have them filed away. And if a teenage girl wanted to obtain a passport or birth certificate herself, there is no way she could do so in the seventy-two hours needed to ensure that Plan B is effective."
That's particularly problematic when you consider that minority teens, particularly Latinas, are far more likely to become pregnant than their white peers. And the FDA concluded that Plan B is safe for women and girls of all ages.
As Valenti wrote, "I think it's fair to say that most people are uncomfortable with the idea of a 14-year-old having sex. But here's the thing—access to Plan B isn't about keeping a 14-year-old from having sex—by the time she gets to the pharmacy, that ship has sailed—it's about keeping a 14-year-old who has already had sex from getting pregnant."
A federal court order previously required the government to make emergency contraceptives available over the counter to women of all ages, but the Justice Department announced plans on Wednesday to file a challenge to that decision.