The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced its approval of over-the-counter status for Plan B emergency contraception for women 18 years and older at a press conference today. The announcement is a major victory for women and women’s health advocates nationwide, who have demanded FDA approval for over-the-counter access since 2003. Emergency contraception (EC) is effective up to five days (120 hours) after unprotected sex, birth control failure, or rape, but it is most effective (95 percent) if taken within 24 hours. Because of the time-sensitive nature of EC, over-the-counter access is crucial to its effective use.
The approval of EC over-the-counter is a result of the demands of women across the country, especially of young women. The Feminist Majority Foundation has sent tens of thousands of petitions to the FDA asking for approval of EC over-the-counter, and conducts a major campaign to increase access to EC on college campuses around the nation. Women’s health advocates also credit Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) for their work blocking the confirmation of FDA commissioner nominees Lester Crawford and Andrew von Eschenback until the FDA made a decision on over-the-counter status for Plan B.
“This decision is long overdue. For nearly three years politics took precedence over good science and good health policy decisions and women’s health suffered,” said Dr. Susan Wood, who resigned from the FDA in protest of the agency’s delay in approved over-the-counter status for EC. “While I am glad that the drumbeat for a return to a science-based FDA has had some positive impact, this decision still represents a compromise – one that could have the unintended consequence of hurting young women’s health.”