FDA Approves Plan B for Over-the-Counter Sale

| Thu Aug. 24, 2006 12:22 PM EDT

Finally. The emergency contraceptive, which can prevent pregnancy if taken up to 72 hours after sex, will be be available over-the-counter to women over 18 as soon as the drug's maker reprints the packaging. This comes nearly three years after an independent FDA advisory committee voted overwhelmingly that Plan B is perfectly safe for over-the-counter sale without age restrictions.

As part of the FDA approval, the drug's maker agrees to "conduct an education campaign ... to raise awareness and knowledge levels about emergency contraception." This is great news, because recent surveys have shown only one in five women is aware that there are effective methods of after-sex contraception.

Now for the bad news: Women under 18 will still have to get a doctor's note to purchase Plan B for themselves, even though all research says that the drug can be safely and effectively used by teens. The age restriction means that Plan B will not be sold in convenience stores, but only at businesses with a licensed pharmacist. In this way, it also affects women 18 and up. Not every town in America has a 24-hour pharmacy, but most have a 24-hour gas station. Pharmacist refusals are likely to remain a huge problem.

And even though the FDA has finally caved to common sense, the Center for Reproductive Rights lawsuit against the agency will continue. Depositions in the case show the White House intervened in the FDA's supposedly independent decision-making process, and the Center has subpoenaed members of the Bush administration. This ain't over yet.