Washington, DC -- In light of the US Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) decision to approve over-the-counter (OTC) status for Plan B® emergency contraception (EC) for women age 18 and older, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) today emphasized the need for unimpeded access to EC for all women of reproductive age. Timely access to emergency contraception is pivotal in reducing the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions in the US.
By restricting its OTC availability to women age 18 and older, the FDA has missed an unparalleled opportunity to prevent teenage pregnancies. Each year there are more than 800,000 teen pregnancies in the US, with many ending in abortion. Pregnancy itself is not without risk, especially for a young woman. There is no scientific or medical reason to impose an age restriction and to withhold EC from this population. EC is safe for over-the-counter use by women of all ages.
A common goal is for every pregnancy to be planned for the optimal health of the woman and her baby. However, contraceptive failures occur, accidents happen, and teenage women in particular may not always have control over their own sexuality. Pregnancy should not be viewed punitively, as a "price" that they have to pay. Emergency contraception offers a safe and effective alternative that should be readily available.
Moreover, women need to know about EC and how they can get it. ACOG will continue efforts to promote its Ask me. program aimed at informing women of all ages about emergency contraception and increasing awareness of EC so that it's no longer the best-kept secret in medicine. ACOG reaffirms its priority of preventing unintended pregnancy and reducing the number of abortions in this country.
While the FDA's approval of EC over the counter for women age 18 and older may be perceived as a substantial victory for women across the country, that is not necessarily the case. Access problems will still exist in states where regulations do not permit pharmacies to dispense EC directly to women without a prescription and where individual pharmacists refuse to fill prescriptions. ACOG commends the handful of states who have put women first by allowing them access to EC without a prescription (AK, CA, HI, ME, MA, NH, NM, VT, and WA) and encourages other states to take up similar bills when legislatures reconvene.
Emergency contraception, also called the morning-after pill, is a higher dosage of the same hormones found in ordinary birth control pills. It is highly effective in reducing a woman's chance of pregnancy after a contraceptive failure or unprotected sex. This can include rape. If taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, EC prevents up to 89% of pregnancies; it is most effective if taken within 24 hours.