Emergency Contraception Still Not Easily Available to Young Women

By Rachel Walden — March 25, 2010

The Center for Reproductive Rights has launched a campaign to raise awareness of the continuing prescription status of emergency contraception for young women, while older women have over-the-counter access – and they’re doing it with bunnies.

As the bunnies note:

Bunny 1: Wait, I thought you didn’t need a prescription anymore.

Bunny 2: You don’t. But you still have to go to the pharmacist, show your ID, and if you’re lucky, escape without the Stares of Shame.

Bunny 1: Yikes. Why can’t you buy it like a condom?

Bunny 2: Excellent question. Scientists say there are no medical grounds for limiting access to emergency contraception. But instead of putting our health first, the Food and Drug Administration overruled their own scientists and bowed to political pressure.

Bunny 1: Whoa.

The video further explains that “On March 23, 2009, the Center won a major victory when a judge ordered the FDA to reconsider making emergency contraception available over-the-counter to women of all ages. A year later, the FDA still isn’t moving forward. Even though there is no scientific basis to continue restrictions on emergency contraception.” The full decision in that case is available online from the Center, and includes the judge’s conclusion that:

…no useful purpose would be served by continuing to deprive 17 year olds access to Plan B without a prescription. Indeed, the record shows that FDA officials and staff both agreed that 17 years olds can use Plan B safely without a prescription. The FDA’s justification for this age restriction, that pharmacists would be unable to enforce the prescription requirement if the cutoff were age 17, rather than 18, lacks all credibility.

This can be a bit confusing (as we noted in this previous post), but Plan B was initially approved for non-prescription access only for women 18 and older. A generic version of Plan B (called Next Choice) and Plan B One-Step have since been approved for OTC status for women 17 and older, but all forms are prescription-only for women 16 and younger. The judge’s ruling mentioned above concerns the continuing lack of OTC access to the original Plan B for 17 year old women.

The Government Accountability Office, in its 2005 report [PDF] on irregularities in the FDA’s initial decision to deny over-the-counter status for Plan B, also identified the approach to access to the drug for younger women as one of the unusual aspects of the decision-making process. The report disputed the behavioral rationale used in the denial as well as the claim that it was invalid to extrapolate data from older to younger adolescents, and  noted that there are no age-related marketing restrictions for any other FDA-approved contraceptives and no identified safety issues that would require age-related restrictions.

Supporters are being asked to contact the FDA and ask the agency to remove restrictions on access to emergency contraception for young women.


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