Plan B Shift Ok'd

Fda Lifting Prescription Rule For 17-year-olds

April 23, 2009|By Noam N. Levey | Noam N. Levey,Tribune Washington Bureau

The Food and Drug Administration, announcing Wednesday that it would allow 17-year-olds to buy the emergency contraceptive pill Plan B without a prescription, signaled a major shift in the agency's approach to a long-simmering family planning issue.

The decision follows a ruling last month from a federal judge who rejected a Bush administration policy that allowed nonprescription sales of the pill only to people 18 or older, requiring younger girls to consult a doctor before they could get it.

The FDA's announcement was another example of the new priorities of the Obama administration, which in the past three months has moved to reverse several Bush-era restrictions on family planning services.

Obama overturned a ban on U.S. support to international aid groups that provide abortion services and threw out a rule allowing health care workers to deny services that violated their moral beliefs.

Both changes were top priorities of family planning advocates and women's groups. They had accused the FDA of letting politics dictate scientific policy, including the restriction on the Plan B pill.

On Wednesday, Nancy Northrup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, praised the agency's apparent change of heart.

"We commend the FDA for taking swift action to ensure that its decisions on Plan B are based solely on the drug's safety and efficacy," said Northup, whose group had brought the lawsuit against the FDA. "It is a key step for the agency as it seeks to restore confidence in its ability to safeguard public health and leave politics at the lab door."

Popularly known as the "morning-after pill," Plan B works largely by preventing ovulation. The pill may also make it harder for sperm to fertilize any egg by thickening mucus secretions, and it might inhibit implantation by affecting the uterine lining.

Studies show that as many as 89 percent of pregnancies can be averted if Plan B is taken within three days of intercourse.

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