Wednesday, April 23, 2014
By Lauran Neergaard / The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — In a surprise twist to the decade-plus effort to ease access to morning-after pills, the government is lowering the age limit to 15 for one brand — Plan B One-Step — and will let it be sold over the counter.
This undated image made available by Teva Women's Health shows the packaging for their Plan B One-Step (levonorgestrel) tablet, one of the brands known as the "morning-after pill."
Today, Plan B and its generic competition are sold behind pharmacy counters, and people must prove they're 17 or older to buy the emergency contraception without a prescription. A federal judge had ordered an end to those sales restrictions by next Monday.
But Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration approved a different approach: Plan B could sit on drugstore shelves next to condoms, spermicides or other women's health products — but to make the purchase, buyers must prove they're 15 or older at the cash register.
Manufacturer Teva Women's Health, which had applied for the compromise path, said it planned to make the switch in a few months.
The question is whether Tuesday's action settles the larger court fight. Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Edward Korman of New York blasted the Obama administration for imposing the age-17 limit, saying it had let election-year politics trump science and were making it hard for women of any age to obtain emergency contraception in time for it to work.
The FDA said Tuesday's decision was independent of the court case and wasn't intended to address it. The Justice Department remained mum on whether it planned to appeal Korman's ruling by Monday's deadline, and the White House had no immediate comment.
The women's group that sued over the age limits said Tuesday's action is not enough, and it will continue the court fight if necessary.
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. In most states, driver's licenses, the most common form of identification, are issued at age 16.
"While an improvement over current policy, today's announcement is still disappointing," said Marcia D. Greenberger of the National Women's Law Center. "Because all women will be required to show an ID to establish their age, those without IDs could be denied access."
Other 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."
Social conservatives had opposed any efforts to loosen restrictions on sale of the morning-after pill, arguing that it was important for parents and medical professionals to be involved in such decisions involving young girls.
The group Concerned Women for America charged that health officials were putting politics and so-called progress ahead of the health of children as well as women.
"It makes no sense that kids need parental permission to take aspirin at school, but they're free to buy and administer Plan B," Penny Nance, CEO and president of CWA, said in a statement.
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