FDA Decision Imminent on Emergency Contraception, But Not All Women Will Benefit
August 17, 2006
After years of controversy over the "safer than aspirin" product known as Plan B or the "morning after pill," the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will finally announce their decision whether women can obtain Plan B emergency contraception (EC) without a doctor's prescription.
Yet the ruling is likely to deny EC access to some of the women who need it most. In a pre-decision announcement, the FDA said it had asked Plan B's manufacturer to submit a proposal to deny non-prescription Plan B to women under age 18, even though both the FDA's professional staff and its advisory committees recommended no age limitation. If approved under those terms, the FDA will be acting irresponsibly and will be further demonstrating that it is driven by political influence, not scientific evidence.
Data from the Alan Guttmacher Institute show that in 2001 there were 271,000 pregnancies among women aged 15 to 17, and 87 percent of those pregnancies were unintended. That's more than 235,000 young women who, with unimpeded access to Plan B, could have effectively prevented an unintended pregnancies. The FDA has chosen to ignore the obvious, quantifiable need for over-the-counter emergency contraception by all women of childbearing age.
Young women, especially low-income teens who have no doctor or healthcare coverage, will continue to face the reproductive and healthcare discrimination that forces them into life-altering, unwanted pregnancies. Forcing ill-prepared teens to care for children for which they have few personal and financial resources is unethical and has costly, long-term implications for society.
While NOW will fight the FDA's determination to turn its back on young women, we will also challenge the unnecessary hurdles that adult women will face at pharmacies and medical centers where right-wing moralists continue to limit women's access to all forms of contraception. We will urge all pharmacies to make EC accessible off-the-shelf, right next to the condoms.
Locking up this product or placing it behind the counter will force women to ask someone to retrieve it for them, thus increasing the current problem of pharmacists who refuse to dispense Plan B and birth control pills, even with a prescription. Women's rights must not be violated by clerks or cashiers who feel, as some pharmacists do, that it is their prerogative to subject a customer to moralistic lecturing and to deny to women access to safe and legal medical treatment.
While we await the FDA's ruling, NOW, along with women around the country, pledges to continue mobilizing activists to pressure the FDA, the Congress, and the state legislatures for unimpeded access to emergency contraception for all women of reproductive age. Leaving young women behind is a tragic mistake, and we hope the FDA will recognize that women must be trusted to know whether they want to become pregnant, and make their own informed decisions in that regard.
Plan B, which currently requires a prescription, has been recommended for over-the-counter (i.e. non-prescription) access for women of all ages by both the FDA's professional staff and both of the professional advisory committees that studied the issue. It is a back-up birth control method consisting of a concentrated dose of regular birth control pills, and reduces the risk of pregnancy by up to 89 percent when taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex. Because of Plan B's narrow window of effectiveness, easy and timely access is crucial. This access is hindered by the requirement of obtaining a prescription, and in some cases is completely obstructed by discriminatory treatment from pharmacists and doctors who refuse to dispense Plan B.
###For Immediate Release
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