So What’s Plan C?
May 6, the Food and Drug Administration rejected a proposal
to switch Plan B, a brand of emergency contraception, to over-the-counter
status. In a highly unusual move, the plan was rejected after
being overwhelmingly recommended by both the FDA Nonprescription
Drugs Committee and Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee
and most major medical and health-care organizations, including
the American Medical Association, the American Public Health
Association, and the American College of Obstetricians and
Gynecologists. Steven Galson, acting director for the FDA’s
Center of Drug Evaluation and Research, claimed he rejected
the plan in conjunction with the FDA commissioner’s office,
reasoning that there was a lack of information regarding the
impact of OTC emergency contraceptives on minors.
Reproductive health advocates believe the decision amounts
to ideology triumphing over science. Plan B was found to meet
all criteria for an OTC medication, including low toxicity,
no important drug interactions, uniform dosage, and no potential
for overdose or addiction. Studies show that providing women
with emergency contraceptives does not increase their chances
of having unprotected sex. Rather, emergency contraceptives
are viewed as the best new method for prevented unintended
pregnancy and reducing the abortion rate.
Commonly confused with RU-486 (the “abortion pill”), emergency
contraceptives prevent pregnancy rather than terminating it.
When taken within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse, emergency
contraceptives either stop fertilization or, if that has already
happened, prevent implantation.
It has been projected that widespread availability and use
of emergency contraceptives could prevent more than half of
all unintended pregnancies and abortions in the United States.
The United States has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates
in the industrialized world.
As of right now, the only way to obtain emergency contraceptives
in New York state is with a prescription. The Planned Parenthood
clinic on Lark Street in downtown Albany filled 2,048 prescriptions
for emergency contraceptives in 2003 alone.
Though the fight to place emergency contraceptives on drugstore
shelves has been temporarily halted, reproductive health advocates
in New York state are focusing on a bill that will help them
become far more accessible. “The Unintended Pregnancy Prevention
Act” is a bill that would allow nurses and pharmacists in
New York to dispense emergency contraception using a non-patient-specific
order written by a licensed provider, which would eliminate
the need for a doctor’s appointment to receive the medications.
It has been passed by the Assembly, and is currently waiting
to be brought to the Senate for a vote. States such as California,
Oregon, Hawaii, New Mexico, Alaska and Washington already
run similar programs successfully.