WASHINGTON (AP) — The government is making the morning-after pill over the counter, but only those 15 and older can buy it — an attempt to find a middle ground just days before a court-imposed deadline to lift all age restrictions on the emergency contraceptive.
Currently, Plan B One-Step is sold behind pharmacy counters and young women must prove they're 17 or older to buy it without a prescription. Tuesday's decision by the Food and Drug Administration lowers the age limit and allows the pill to sit on drugstore shelves next to condoms, spermicides and other women's health products — but anyone who wants to buy it must prove her age at the cash register.
Some contraceptive advocates called the move promising.
“This decision is a step in the right direction for increased access to a product that is a safe and effective method of preventing unintended pregnancies,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. “It's also a decision that moves us closer to these critical availability decisions being based on science, not politics.”
Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Edward Korman of New York blasted the Obama administration for imposing the 17 and older limit on OTC sales, saying it was letting election-year politics trump science and was making it hard for women of any age to obtain emergency contraception in time. He ordered an end to the age restrictions by Monday.
The women's group that sued over the age limits said that the action taken Tuesday by the FDA is not enough and that it will continue the court fight.
Lowering the age limit “may reduce delays for some young women, but it does nothing to address the significant barriers that far too many women of all ages will still find if they arrive at the drugstore without identification,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights.
The FDA said the Plan B One-Step will be packaged with a product code that prompts the cashier to verify a customer's age. Anyone who can't provide such proof as a driver's license, birth certificate or passport wouldn't be allowed to complete the purchase.
“These are daunting and sometimes insurmountable hoops women are forced to jump through in time-sensitive circumstances, and we will continue our battle in court to remove these arbitrary restrictions on emergency contraception for all women,” Northup said.
Half of U.S. pregnancies are unintended, and doctors groups say more access to morning-after pills would reduce that. The pills, which contain higher doses of regular contraceptives, can lower the chance of pregnancy by 89 percent when taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex.
Copyright 2013 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.