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Official: FDA to OK "morning-after" pill for 17-year-olds without prescription

Oklahoman Modified: April 22, 2009 at 2:02 pm •  Published: April 22, 2009
WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, reversing former policy, will now let 17-year-old girls get the 'morning-after' birth control pill without a doctor's prescription, a government health official said Wednesday.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the agency will announce that it is complying with a federal judge's order that overturned a Bush administration policy. The official was not authorized to speak publicly before the FDA announcement, expected later Wednesday.

Last month, U.S. District Judge Edward Korman ruled in a New York lawsuit that Bush administration appointees let politics, not science, drive their decision to allow over-the-counter access to these pills only for women 18 and older. Korman ordered the agency to let 17-year-olds get the medication, and separately to evaluate whether all age restrictions should be lifted.

Plan B is emergency contraception that contains a high dose of birth control drugs and will not interfere with an established pregnancy. Religious conservatives say it is the equivalent of an abortion pill because it can prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus.

The battle over access to Plan B has dragged on for the better part of a decade, through the tenures of three FDA commissioners. Among many in the medical community, it came to symbolize the decline of science at the agency. Top FDA managers refused to go along with the recommendations of scientific staff and outside advisers that the drug be made available over-the-counter with no age restrictions.

"The FDA got caught up in a saga; it got caught up in a drama," said Susan Wood, who served as the agency's top women's health official and resigned in 2005 over delays in issuing a decision. "This issue served as a clear example of the agency being taken off track, and it highlighted the problems FDA was facing in many other areas."

If taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, Plan B can reduce a woman's chances of pregnancy by as much as 89 percent. It contains a high dose of birth control drugs and works by preventing ovulation, fertilization, or the implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus.

If a woman already has become pregnant, Plan B has no effect.

However, social conservatives say that since it can prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg, Plan B is the equivalent of an abortion pill.

The treatment consists of two pills and sells for about $35 to $60.

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