The “morning after” pill is currently a prescription contraceptive sold under the names “Plan B” and “Previn.” Plan B contains a higher dose of the hormone progestin than the birth-control pill, and is intended to be consumed by women within 72 hours after unprotected sexual intercourse to reduce the chances of an unwanted pregnancy. Plan B prevents ovulation or fertilization, and can possibly interfere with the implantation of a fertilized egg into the uterus. However, Plan B has no effect on a woman who is already pregnant, which distinguishes it from the RU-486 abortion pill.
On December 16, 2003, an advisory panel for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) voted to allow Plan B to be sold over-the-counter. Although the FDA has not formally approved the non-prescription availability of Plan B, the agency usually follows advisory panel advice, and is expected to return a decision in the near future.
Maintaining the “Morning After” Pill as a Prescription-Only Product
Pro-life groups have argued that making Plan B easier to obtain might increase promiscuity and unsafe sex, putting women and teenage girls at a higher risk for sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies.
Further, while the FDA usually follows the advice of its advisory panels, the agency is headed by a member of the Bush administration. Accordingly, some commentators have noted that the agency is under political pressure to keep Plan B prescription-only. In fact, 44 members of Congress recently wrote to the FDA, emphasizing that over-the-counter availability would make Plan B as accessible to teenage girls as hairspray.
Rationale Behind Easier Access
Despite resistance from pro-life groups and political party pressure, FDA decisions are science-based. Proponents of making the emergency contraceptive available over-the-counter urge that easier access is necessary and beneficial for the following reasons:
Easier access will reduce unwanted pregnancies and consequently prevent abortions
Very limited safety risks are associated with Plan B
The pill poses no danger to a fetus if the woman is already pregnant
It can be difficult to find a doctor to write a prescription in time, particularly on weekends and holidays
If approved, Plan B will be as readily available as cough medicine and aspirin, and there will be no age restrictions placed on its availability. Currently, a two-pill pack costs between $20 and $30, the same price as a one month supply of birth-control pills.