By John Edmonds  (Posted by permission)

November, 2005


Should a safe drug with 90 percent effectiveness be available to purchase over the counter? Most would say yes. With virtually no side effects and information on how to properly take the drug given to the buyer one might say that everything about this drug sounds great. So what is it? Cold medicine? A painkiller? Antacid pills, perhaps? Surely there would be no problem with selling one of these types of drugs at the corner store. However, the drug in question is not one of these. It is a pill designed to prevent unwanted pregnancies by preventing ovulation. "It also may prevent the fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus" (Kolata, 152).

So what's the problem? Opposition to the drug state that if it is sold over the counter people will become irresponsible with their sexual behavior, causing the drug to be used in a careless manner. The second argument against the drug states that, "if pregnancy begins with fertilization, as conservatives believe, then the pills could induce an early abortion" (Kolata, 152). Lastly, those opposing the sale of the drug over the counter state that it may harm sexually active young teens. So what's really the problem with selling the drug? In my opinion, there is no problem.

In regards to the argument that offering the drug over the counter will cause people to become irresponsible with their sexual behavior I present an argument of my own in return. There have been various forms of contraceptives on the market for years. They all help to prevent unwanted pregnancies just as the drug in question does. Since this is the case one would have to believe that people would become no more irresponsible with their sexual activity then they already are.

For now I will skip the second argument in order to discuss the lesser argument of harm to young teenagers. First of all, "according to a report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (, just 4 percent of girls have sexual intercourse before age 13" (Kolata, 152). That leaves 96 percent of young teens that we need not worry about. In regards to the other 4 percent I argue that such a small group should be of no concern. There is no evidence that the drug will harm someone of that age. In addition we don't have to sell persons under the age of 13 the drug over the counter. A law could be created that disallows underage persons to purchase the drug unless accompanied by an adult or they have medical consent.

Now for the most difficult of the arguments, does the drug cause early abortions? The drug's main intention is to prevent ovulation. Without ovulation there can be no fertilization. Therefore, there is no argument. However, in some cases the drug can prevent a fertilized egg from finding its way to the uterus. In this case the woman's body will flush out the fertilized egg resulting in a very early abortion. Is this immoral? My answer is no.

The drug is designed to be used within 72 hours after intercourse. 72 hours is such a short period of time that even if the egg is fertilized the fetus will have no time to develop into anything that even resembles a human, physically or, more importantly, mentally. To be considered a person one has to possess a certain mental capacity. A fetus which is only hours old does not possess any type of mental capacity therefore is should not be considered a person with rights. To further my argument I will turn to Mary Anne Warren for help.

Warren suggests six criteria for being considered a person. The criteria are as follows: sentience, emotionality, reason, the capacity to communicate, self-awareness, and moral agency. A fetus possess none of these criteria, therefore, it is not a person with rights. But what about the argument which states that a fetus has the potential to fill these requirements? John T. Noonan Jr. states that,"A being who has had experience, has lived and suffered, who possesses memories, is more human than one who has not. Humanity depends on formation by experience. The fetus is thus "unformed" in the most basic human sense" (Noonan, 100). He goes on to say that, "this distinction is not serviceable for the embryo which is already experiencing and reacting. The embryo is responsive to touch after eight weeks and at least at that point is experiencing" (Noonan, 100) In defense of my argument the fetus is only hours old when a woman decides to use the drug rather than eight weeks. If the fetus can only be responsive to touch after the eight-­week mark then anything before that time would indicate that the fetus is not responsive to touch. In defense of Warren's argument, Noonan only addresses one, sentience, of her five criteria for being considered a person with rights. The drug in question won't even work if a woman waits eight-weeks to use it. Even if it did work up to eight-weeks the fetus still would not possess the five other criteria for personhood that Warren has stated.

In closing, should the drug be available for over the counter purchase? Yes. The drug isn't even meant to be an abortion drug. It is meant to prevent ovulation. Is that not essentially what a condom does? Condoms are sold over the counter, why shouldn't this drug be? Only in certain cases does it prevent the fertilized egg from entering the uterus. Even when it does prevent the fertilized egg from entering the uterus the fetus is only three days old, maximum when the drug is taken. It is so underdeveloped that it hasn't even begun to possess any of Warren's criteria for personhood. In this case one cannot argue that the drug should not be made available. Its purpose is not to abort a person. However, if the drug does fail and the fetus is aborted it is so young and underdeveloped that no criteria for personhood are met. There is no way to dispute that fact. That is why there should be no argument regarding the drug being sold over the counter.

Works Cited

Kolata, Gina. “The New York Times:  Plan B.” Contemporary Moral Problems. Eighth Edition. James E. White. Belmont, CA: Thompson Wadsworth, 2006. 151-152.

Noonan, John T. Jr. “An Almost Absolute Value in History.” Contemporary Moral Problems. Eighth Edition. James E. White. Belmont, CA: Thompson Wadsworth, 2006. 98-113.

Warren, Mary A. “On The Moral and Legal Status of Abortion.” Contemporary Moral Problems. Eighth Edition. James E. White. Belmont, CA: Thompson Wadsworth, 2006. 114-125.

                        Posted Dec. 15, 2004