FDA's Morning-After Pill Shift Stirs Debate

"Today's announcement by the FDA is a strong statement to American women that their health comes before politics," said Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards in a statement. "And that's the way it should be. This decision is commonsense policy that will help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and protect the health and safety of all women."

Stacie Geller, director of the National Center of Excellence in Women's Health at the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Chicago and author of a 2007 review paper on emergency contraception, is another supporter of wider Plan B availability. At the time of last month's court decision, she said that there was no evidence to suggest that the drugs were in any way dangerous to women younger than 18.

"There is nothing in the studies to suggest that women less than 18 years old had any different reaction, side effects or reproductive outcomes that were any different from those women 18 [and older]," she said. "The political agenda of the right always attacks the young and the poor first; they are the most vulnerable and have the hardest time organizing and fighting back."

Opponents to Plan B Availability Register Moral Objections

Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, further noted in a statement released Wednesday that the development is a victory for science.

"We are pleased that the FDA is taking the necessary steps to comply with the court's order. It's a good indication that the agency will move expeditiously to ensure its policy on Plan B is based solely on science," Northup's statement reads. "It's time the FDA restores confidence in its ability to safeguard the public health and put medical science first."

But along with the debate over the science has come a debate over the propriety of allowing women younger than 18 to take Plan B. It is this facet of the debate that has split pharmacists -- some of whom have registered their moral objection to offering the pills in the first place.

But Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Research Center for Women and Families, said that the primary issue at play has always been one of safety.

"The issue all along has been the safety of this product and at what age can a girl or woman make an appropriate choice," she said. "Seventeen seems like a reasonable compromise. Certainly it should prevent unwanted pregnancies, which is very important."

Zuckerman added that the morning after pill may also be a tool to prevent pregnancies from rape in teenage girls.

Wood agreed that the pill would be a boon to many women in this age group.

"For 17-year-old women, it will make a great deal of difference," she said, adding that she believes there should be no age restriction on the pill.

"No one should be blocked from it," she said. "There are a lot of over-the-counter drugs with much more serious safety issues, this is not breaking any new ground."

Wright disagreed.

"A minor girl can't get her ears pierced, in many states can't go to a tanning booth without her parents' permission," she said. "And yet, now the FDA is making this drug available to 17-year-olds and there will be pressure to make it available to [girls] even younger, to 17."

Change Will Not Happen Right Away

Not surprisingly, TEVA Pharmaceuticals -- the maker of Plan B -- applauded the decision.

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