Morning After Pill For 15-Year-Old Girls; Why Did FDA Lower Age For Plan B Pills?

By Philip Ross on May 1, 2013 11:03 AM EDT

Plan B
Until Tuesday, April 30, Plan B, one of the brand names for a group of drugs known generically as levonorgestrel emergency contraceptive, was available only for girls and women 17 years of age and older. That age limit was lowered to 15. (Photo: Creative Commons)

On Tuesday, the U.S. government announced that it will lower the age limit for purchasing the Plan B One-Step morning after pill to 15 years of age -- two years younger than the pill's current age restriction.

The New York Times reports that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, will also make the morning after pill, used shortly after unprotected intercourse or failed contraception to prevent pregnancy, available on drug store shelves next to the condoms and spermicides; until now, Plan B was kept out of reach behind pharmacy counters and buyers had to prove they were 17 or older.

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Each box of morning after pills will have a security tab to prevent theft and, when scanned at the cashier, will notify the sales representative that identification is required to prove the purchaser's age.

Up until a few years ago, girls 17 and younger could only obtain Plan B with a prescription. In March 2009, a U.S. federal judge ordered the FDA to allow girls 17 and older to purchase the morning after pill without a doctor's recommendation.

According to USA Today, half of U.S. pregnancies are unintended. Doctors say that providing wider access to morning after pills could help decrease those numbers; if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex or failed contraception like condom breakage, the pill can cut the chance of pregnancy by up to 89 percent.

Levonorgestrel emergency contraceptive -- the generic name for morning after pills Next Choice, Plan B and Plan B One-Step -- is a female hormone that stops a pregnancy by preventing the ovary from releasing an egg. According to Rx List, levonorgestrel also causes the cervical mucus and uterine lining to change, making it more difficult for an egg to attach to the uterine wall and for sperm to reach the egg. The drug is considered mostly safe and effective, with possible side effects limited to things like nausea and diarrhea, dizziness, lethargy, breast pain, headache or changes in menstrual period -- although allergic reaction is always possible and should be treated immediately.

So what prompted the FDA's decision to make the morning after pill available to girls 15 years of age or older?

The decision to lower the age limit to obtain Plan B to 15 was made after a federal judge ruled in early April that the drug agency had 30 days to make the pill available for all ages without a prescription. From the Washington Post:

The question is whether Tuesday's action settles the larger court fight. Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Edward Korman of New York blasted the Obama administration for imposing the age-17 limit, saying it had let election-year politics trump science and were making it hard for women of any age to obtain emergency contraception in time for it to work.

The FDA said Tuesday's decision was independent of the court case and wasn't intended to address it. The Justice Department remained mum on whether it planned to appeal Korman's ruling by Monday's deadline, and the White House had no immediate comment.

According to the New York Times, the decision was a compromise between people on both sides of the aisle -- conservatives and anti-abortion advocates on one side, women's health and reproductive rights groups on the other.

Take the poll, and tell us what you think about the FDA's decision to lower the age limit for purchasing Plan B to 15.

Did The FDA Make The Right Decision In Allowing The Purchase Of Emergency Contraception (Plan B) By Girls 15 Years Of Age And Older?
  
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Read more from iScience Times:

NYC Schools To Offer Plan B 'Morning After' Pill

Birth Control Pill Recall: Why Is Alysena-28 Being Yanked From Shelves?

  New Cancer Pill Doubles As Male Birth Control

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