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OK, So What’s Plan C?

On 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.

—Ashley Thiry

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