By: Jean Johnson for Uterus1
It will still take a few months for the morning after pill, Plan B, to reach the shelves. But by the end of 2006 or early in 2007 women 18 and older will be able to purchase the pills from a pharmacist or personnel in women’s clinics without a physician’s prescription. This will give women access to the two-pill Plan B system that is designed to reduce the risk of pregnancy 89 percent if taken within 72 hours of sexual intercourse.
| How much do you know about Plan B?|
Plan B, otherwise known as levonorgestrel, has been marketed since 1999.
Since 1999, nine states have passed regulations allowing over the counter sales at pharmacies.
With the FDA ruling, however, women 18 and older in all 50 states will be able to get the morning after pill without a prescription.
Plan B will be available only at pharmacies or clinics where personnel can check identification cards of those wanting to buy the medication. The morning after pill will not be sold in convenience stores or other stores that carry some medications like aspirin.
The need to gain access to the pills within three days of unprotected intercourse, a time frame within which it can be difficult to get an appointment with a physician, has led to the interest in making Plan B available on an over the counter basis. The decision by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), however, has come only after three years of fierce and bitter political wrangling. As expected those on each of the debate remain critical of both the process and the recent resolution.
Liberals and Conservatives Clash over Plan B Accessibility
“This decision is long overdue. For nearly three years, politics took preference over good science and good health policy,” Susan F. Wood, PhD, told The Washington Times in August 2006 after the decision was announced. Wood is currently a research professor at the George Washington University School of Public Health. She resigned her job as the FDA’s assistant commissioner for women’s health a year ago when the agency refused to allow the morning after pill to be sold over the counter.
“The scientific and medical evidence, as well as the consensus among major medical organizations like the American Medical Association supporting over the counter access to Plan B for all women,” Wood observed, “is overwhelming.”
Conservative groups, on the other hand, were adamant that the FDA ruling sends the wrong message to a society already gone far astray in terms of sexual mores.
“This is a dream come true for a statutory rapist… it is political correctness run amok,” Jan LaRue, chief counsel for Concerned Women of America said to The Washington Times. “This is a very real concern since national studies show that two-thirds of adolescent girls have partners who are 21 and older.”
The Times added that LaRue “cited a 2002 report by the California Center for Health Statistics that found a ‘slight majority’ of pregnancies involving girls 10 to 14 in that state resulted from sex with an adult.”
For their parts, Democratic senators Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Patty Murray of Washington announced they would no longer block the nomination of Andrew von Eschenbach, M.D., as FDA commissioner – a tactic they used for the past two years, most recently with von Eschenbach and formerly with his predecessor. The senators spearheaded a contingency opposed to what they branded as machinations and major footing-dragging by FDA.
Indeed, after the FDA voted 23 to 4 to approve making the morning after pill available over the counter in 2003, further progress was stalled with agency spokespersons citing concerns about young teens gaining unsupervised access the drug. Even after Barr Pharmaceuticals, the company that manufactures Plan B, submitted a revised application in July 2004 to restrict sales to those over 18, the FDA still didn’t move.
Another year went by before in August 2005 the federal agency accounted for the time lag by stating that it needed to rewrite its rules on how to enforce the age restrictions. Accusing the FDA of caving to pressure from the Bush Administration and the conservative religious constituency from which the president draws major support, Clinton and Murray asked the Government Accountability Office to look into the matter. In October 2005, the GAO reported back that the FDA’s handling of the matter was “highly unusual.”
Plan B Safe and Not an Abortion Pill Says FDA
Proponents of Plan B want the public to realize that the morning after pill works by interfering with the release of an egg from the ovary. With nothing for the sperm to fertilize, no pregnancy will ensue. Although the FDA confirms that this is how Plan B works, abortion-rights advocates refuse to accept the science and have branded the contraceptive system “an abortion pill,” capable of terminating new life once a fertilized egg is implanted in the lining of the uterus.
Even those opposed to Plan B are not disputing its safety, however, since if a woman is already pregnant and a fertilized egg has begun to divide within her uterus, the morning after pill has no effect on the growing fetus.
Editors at The New York Times wrote that “the fight over the morning after pill has a long and sorry history. The FDA’s professional staff and its advisory committees have long held that the pills could safely be sold over the counter. There was never any good explanation for delay beyond the Bush Administration’s desire to placate its political base among social conservatives.”
Plan B to Remain Prescription Only for Girls 17 and Younger
The FDA’s von Eschenbach supports the age cut-off on the basis that there is insufficient evidence that young teens can safely use the morning after pills without a physician’s guidance. The New York Times, as well, argues that the age limit is a good compromise given the three-year stand-off that kept Plan B from reaching any women, regardless of age, on an over the counter basis.
“I think it’s too bad they didn’t include the younger girls,” said retired nurse Lilian Stilley, RN of Portland, Oregon. “Those 13 and 14 year olds – they need help too, don’t they? If I had a sexually active youngster that age, I’d want her to be able to get help.
“I agree,” Stilley’s longtime friend, Jean Anderson of Portland said. “Just think of how many unwanted pregnancies we could prevent by letting everyone have access to the pills. These babies so often come into the world without the family resources they need. Consequently they have to rely on public support; society has to step in and do what it can. That makes for a pretty thin birthright for many of these children.”
According to the Associated Press, even though “opponents fear wider access to the pill could promote promiscuity… advocates says it could cut in half the 3 million unplanned pregnancies that occur every year in the United States.”
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