Women on Plan B

The morning-after pill was approved today for over-the-counter sales, but as the Plan B advertising slogan says, "Things don't always go as planned."

The landmark Food and Drug Administration's decision that allows the drug to be sold without a prescription to women 18 and older hasn't quelled the explosive debate that surrounds Plan B.

Arguments still rage over whether the approved regulations go far enough in giving women access to the pill and whether the pill is contraception or very early abortion.

Proponents of the idea argued that over-the-counter availability would reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and abortions, and give young women more control over their bodies. Conservatives argued that making Plan B available over-the-counter would lead not only to an increase in unwanted pregnancies but also to a rise in sexually transmitted diseases and teenage promiscuity.

However, the focus of that debate has largely been in Washington -- on Capitol Hill -- and inside the lobbying firms on K Street.

Outside the political arena of Washington, where do American women, particularly young women, stand on the issue?

Their position depends largely on where they stood before today's announcement.

Take Jilane Rodgers, a 22-year-old graduate student from Orange County, Calif., who believes the decision is important to her generation.

"I believe the change will make women more comfortable in seeking this type of birth control method," Rodgers said.

Rodgers, however, believes that the age limit in each state should be set to match that state's age-of-consent laws.

"If states think that women are old enough to consent to having sex, they should also see women as mature enough to make this decision about their reproductive health," she said.

And then there is Laura Openshaw, a 22-year-old paralegal in Princeton, N.J., who describes herself as "pro-life." Openshaw believes there isn't enough scientific evidence to help women make a clear decision.

"It's obviously an ideological issue, but what's clear is that all the facts need to be out there, and a lot of the people who are trying to push for Plan B to be over-the-counter say it doesn't end pregnancy -- it prevents it," Openshaw said. "But by preventing implantation, those of us who are pro-life and believe that life begins at conception would consider this abortion."

Aja Clark, a 23-year-old student at Oklahoma University, believes the FDA's decision will help lower the high teen pregnancy rate in her state and cut down on the number of abortions.

"I think it would decrease the abortions in Oklahoma, I know a couple of friends who have had abortions," Clark said. "I think they would have used this if it was available. Normally, you'd go to the health department to get it, but it's closed on weekends. So if something happens Saturday, you need it Sunday morning and the health department is closed."

One person who believes many young women will be pleased with the decision is Susan Wood.

"I think we have to say that yes, this is a victory," Wood said.

Wood was the FDA's assistant commissioner for women's health and director of the Office of Women's Health until she resigned from those positions last August, in protest over the agency's decision to further delay a final ruling on whether the Plan B pill should be made available without a prescription.

Wood said her resignation was an attempt to restore "credibility" to the agency, and attributed past delays regarding the nonprescription sale of Plan B to unwarranted interference in agency decision making.

Wood called the decision a step in the right direction but hopes the pill will one day be available to a larger pool of potential customers.

"We're responding to the call not just from me but from people around the country calling for the FDA to return to the way it should be doing business," Wood said. "Although it would be better, and evidence strongly supports it being available to all women of child-bearing potential, being available to women 18 and over is a first step and I'm very glad to hear it."

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