A recent report indicates that the sales of the emergency contraceptive Plan B have nearly doubled since the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval of over-the-counter access for the contraceptive drug. According to the Washington Post, sales of Plan B have risen from “$40 million a year to what will probably be close to $80 million for 2007.”1
Plan B, a brand of emergency contraceptive pills, is a high dose of regular birth control pills that can be a safe and effective method of preventing unintended pregnancies if taken up to 72 hours after unprotected intercourse.2 In August 2006, the FDA approved Plan B as an over-the-counter contraceptive for women 18 and older. Plan B is available to women under the age of 18; however, younger women must have a prescription from their health care provider in order to obtain the drug.3 Under the FDA guidelines, the age restriction is monitored closely by pharmacists as Plan B is stored behind pharmacy counters and identification is required to verify each consumer’s age.4
Advocates applaud the increase in Plan B sales and believe that making access to emergency contraceptives easier will significantly reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies for older adolescent females.5 At the same time, many women’s health and family planning advocates believe that limiting young adolescent females’ access to Plan B thwarts efforts to curb high teenage pregnancy rates. Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, points out that there is no “medical basis for restricting teenagers’ access to emergency contraception.” 6
Conservative groups, on the other hand, do not believe that Plan B should be available over the counter to women of any age. They argue that increased access to emergency contraception encourages sexual activity, does nothing to decrease unintended pregnancies, and leaves “women’s health at risk.” 7 The Family Research Council (FRC), for example, argues that women may lack basic knowledge about emergency contraceptives and may confuse Plan B with traditional contraceptives.8
Research, however, suggests that this is not the case. One study conducted by researchers at the University of California at San Francisco found that women who had pharmacy access to emergency contraception were “not more likely to abandon contraception or switch to less effective methods.”9 Another study found that increased emergency contraception use by adolescents under 16 did not result in inappropriate use of Plan B nor did it compromise their use of routine contraception.10
“News of the success that has come with expanded access to emergency contraception is welcome,” said William Smith, vice president for public policy at SIECUS. “Still, additional barriers need to be removed so that women of all ages have the ability to prevent unintended pregnancies through access to this highly effective product.”
- Rob Stein, “Plan B Use Surges, And So Does Controversy,” Washington Post, 13 July 2007, accessed 23 July 2007, <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/07/12/AR2007071202146.html>.
- “Barr Laboratories’ Plan B Sales Double After FDA Authorization for Nonprescription Sales,” Kaiser Daily Women’s Health Policy Reports, 16 July 2007, accessed 23 July 2007 <http://www.kaisernetwork.org/daily_reports/rep_index.cfm?hint=2&DR_ID=46229>.
- Food and Drug Administration, “FDA Approves Over-the-Counter Access for Plan B for Women 18 and Older,” Press Release published 24 August 2006, accessed 24 July 2007 <http://www.fda.gov/bbs/topics/NEWS/2006/NEW01436.html>.
- “Plan B: More Sales, Less Medical Care,” Family Research Council, 13 July 2007, accessed 24 July 2007, <http://www.frc.org/get.cfm?i=WU07G09&v=PRINT>.
- Tina Raine, et al. “Direct Access to Emergency Contraception Through Pharmacies and Effect on Unintended Pregnancy and STIs” Journal of the American Medical Association (2005) 293: 61, accessed 24 July 2007, <http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/293/1/54 >.
- Cynthia Harper, Monica Cheong, et al. “The Effect of Increase Access to Emergency Contraception Among Young Adolescents,” Obstetrics and Gynecology (2005) 106: 483-491, accessed 24 July 2007, <http://www.greenjournal.org/cgi/content/full/106/3/483>.