TUESDAY, April 30 (HealthDay News) -- The U.S. Food and Drug
Administration late Tuesday approved the over-the-counter sale of
Plan B One-Step, a version of the so-called "morning after" pill,
for use as emergency contraception by girls and women aged 15 and
The move ends years of debate over the issue, and follows a
federal judge's order earlier this month that the FDA make Plan B
available to all women, regardless of age.
The emergency contraceptive is made by Teva Women's Health
"Research has shown that access to emergency contraceptive products has the potential to further decrease the rate of unintended pregnancies in the United States," FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg said in an agency news release.
"The data reviewed by the agency demonstrated that women 15 years of age and older were able to understand how Plan B One-Step works, how to use it properly and that it does not prevent the transmission of a sexually transmitted disease," she said.
To prevent girls under the age of 15 from buying Plan B, the FDA
said the product will bear a label stating that proof of age will
be required, and a special product code will prompt such an inquiry
from the cashier. "In addition, Teva has arranged to have a
security tag placed on all product cartons to prevent theft," the
On April 5, Judge Edward Korman, from the Eastern District of
New York, gave the FDA 30 days to remove age restrictions on the
sale of emergency contraception, such as Plan B One-Step. Until
now, girls 16 and younger needed a doctor's prescription to get the
pill, which typically works if taken within 72 hours after
Other brands of emergency contraception include Next Choice and
The move is the latest chapter in a 10-year, controversial
debate about who should have access to the drug and why.
Plan B prevents implantation of a fertilized egg in a woman's
uterus through use of levonorgestrel, a synthetic form of the
hormone progesterone used for decades in birth control pills. Plan
B contains 1.5 milligrams of levonorgestrel, more than "the Pill"
contains. It is considered a form of birth control, not
Women's health advocates praised the FDA decision.
"While there are still practical questions to resolve, this is an important step forward to expand access to emergency contraception and for preventing unintended pregnancy," Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a news release.
"Emergency contraception is a safe and effective form of birth control that can prevent pregnancy if taken within five days of unprotected sex," she added. "This decision will eliminate some of the biggest barriers and hurdles that women face in getting emergency contraception when they need it, which means many more women will be able to prevent unintended pregnancy."
But not everyone is likely to be pleased with the move.
Earlier this month, Janice Shaw Crouse -- director and senior
fellow at the Beverly LaHaye Institute, the think tank for the
conservative women's group Concerned Women for America -- called
Korman's ruling "a political decision, made by those who stand to
profit financially from an action that puts ideology ahead of the
nation's girls and young women."
"It is irresponsible to advocate over-the-counter use of these high-potency drugs, which would make them available to anyone -- including those predators who exploit young girls," Shaw Crouse said.
In his ruling, Korman was dismissive of the government's
arguments and, in particular, previous decisions by U.S. Health and
Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that required girls
under 17 to get a prescription for the emergency contraceptive.
Korman wrote that Sebelius' actions "with respect to Plan B
One-Step . . . were arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable."
In 2011, Sebelius overruled a recommendation by the FDA to make
the drug available to all women without a prescription. The FDA
said at the time that it had well-supported scientific evidence
that Plan B One-Step is a safe and effective way to prevent
Sebelius, however, said she was concerned that very young girls
couldn't properly understand how to use the drug without assistance
from an adult.
She invoked her authority under the federal Food, Drug and
Cosmetic Act and directed FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg to
issue "a complete response letter." As a result, "the supplement
for nonprescription use in females under the age of 17 is not
approved," Hamburg wrote at the time.
The Mayo Clinic has more about
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