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Morning-after pill prescription-free in US

A US federal judge has ordered that the morning-after pill, Plan B, be made available to 17-year-old girls without a prescription

A US federal judge has ordered that the morning-after pill, Plan B, be made available to 17-year-old girls without a prescription. In the UK the emergency contraceptive pill can be bought over the counter by those over 16 years of age, for around £26, and is available from family planning clinics.

However, Barr Pharmaceuticals which markets Plan B, has been informed by the FDA that it intends to seek public comment on issues related to the removal of the prescription status of the drug for patients 16 and under. The FDA has not committed to any timetable for initiating or concluding this procedure.

In the US Plan B was originally approved by the FDA in 1999 and this latest about-turn for the 17-plus age group comes in the wake of a Bush-era policy that restricted Plan B to prescription-only. In 2003 scientific advisers to the US Food and Drug Administration recommended making Plan B prescription-free. The FDA finally did this in 2006, but only for those over 18 years old. In the interim, the Center for Reproductive Rights(CRR) in Washington DC sued the FDA for not following the scientific advice.

On March 23 2009, Judge Edward Korman ruled in the CRR's favour. He said that the FDA "had acted at the behest of political actors" and ordered it to make Plan B available to 17 year olds without prescription within 30 days, and consider removing age limits altogether. Conservatives say Plan B encourages unprotected sex.

The drug comprises two progestin-only pills containing levonorgestrel, which is used in regular birth control methods. Plan B was the first progestin-only pill approved by the US for emergency contraception and stops fertilisation after sex (rather than causing abortion).

30th March 2009

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