The FDA says buyers must be at least 15 to get morning-after drug.
WASHINGTON – The government is moving the morning-after pill over the counter but only those 15 and older can buy it — an attempt to find middle ground just days before a court-imposed deadline to lift all age restrictions on the emergency contraceptive.
Plan B One-Step is currently sold behind pharmacy counters, and buyers must prove they’re at least 17 to buy it without a prescription.
Tuesday’s decision by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lowers the age limit and will allow the pill to sit on drugstore shelves next to spermicides or other women’s health products and condoms — but anyone who wants to buy it must prove their age at the cash register.
FDA officials said their decision was based on an amended application submitted by the drug’s manufacturer, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries of Israel, and was not intended to address the court order.
“Research has shown that access to emergency contraceptive products has the potential to further decrease the rate of unintended pregnancies in the United States,” FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said.
“The data reviewed by the agency demonstrated that women 15 years of age and older were able to understand how Plan B One-Step works, how to use it properly, and that it does not prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted disease,” she said.
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.”
But earlier in April, 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 was making it difficult for women of any age to obtain the emergency contraception in time.
He ordered an end to the age restrictions by Monday.
Group to continue court fight
The women’s group that sued over the age limits said Tuesday’s action is not enough, and 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 the nation’s pregnancies every year are unintended, and doctors’ groups say more access to morning-after pills could cut those numbers.