Source: Matthew Herper / Forbes
If a teenage girl can get a learner’s permit, she can now probably get the morning-after pill to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex. But advocates of the emergency contraceptive say that is still not enough access.
The Food and Drug Administration announced this afternoon that it had approved the Plan B contraceptive, which lowers the risk of pregnancy when taken within 72 hours after sexual intercourse, for sale over-the-counter to girls as young as 15.
However, in a step that could dramatically reduce the impact of the approval, the FDA is requiring that those who purchase Plan B at a drugstore have legal proof of age such as a driver’s license or non-driver identification card. Because many 15-year-olds might not have driver’s licenses or learner’s permits, many might not be able to purchase the contraceptive. When asked what alternatives could be used, an FDA spokeswoman wrote back: “a passport or birth certificate.” Until now, Plan B, which is made by generic drug giant TEVA Pharmaceuticals, was available at pharmacy counters to anyone over 17. The minimum age for a learner’s permit ranges from 14 to 16, depending on the state. (Data are here.)
In December 2011, the FDA, all the way up to Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, had decided to approve Plan B over-the-counter for women and girls without an age restriction. But Kathleen Sebelius, the head of the Department of Health and Human Services, took the unprecedented step of over-ruling that decision. It was the first time the FDA’s authority had ever been threatened by higher-up in the executive branch. This was a potentially dangerous long-term step, because it weakens the agency’s authority to regulate drugs.
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