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Why the FDA's decision on the morning-after pill will please no one
A modest change is being blasted as both too much and too little
 
The FDA has approved over-the-counter sales of Plan B One-Step to women 15 and older.
The FDA has approved over-the-counter sales of Plan B One-Step to women 15 and older. Getty Images/Justin Sullivan

The Food and Drug Administration announced Tuesday that it would allow the morning-after pill to be sold without a prescription to women 15 and older, so long as they can provide legal proof of age. And no one is really happy about it.

Currently, the contraceptive is available over-the-counter to anyone over 17, but a court ruling mandating that it be available to all women regardless of age is set to kick in soon.

According to the FDA, the latest change is not in response to that pending legal action, but it falls right in between the two poles. And that means many parties have reason to be dissatisfied with the new policy, arguing either that the change is too much, or not enough.

For one, it falls short of the unrestricted access favored by leading science and health groups like the American Medical Association. They're joined by liberal lawmakers, including Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who called the change a "step in the right direction," but said she would keep pushing for more open access. Planned Parenthood vowed to do the same, as did the Center for Reproductive Rights, which filed the lawsuit that led to the recent court ruling.

"Lowering the age restriction to 15 for over-the-counter access to Plan B One-Step may reduce delays for some young women — but it does nothing to address the significant barriers that far too many women of all ages will still find if they arrive at the drugstore without identification or after the pharmacy gates have been closed for the night or weekend," Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement.

Social conservatives, meanwhile, are miffed that the FDA has granted wider access to a pill they oppose on principle.

"This ruling places the health of young girls at risk," a spokesperson for the Family Research Council told Life News. "Making Plan B available for girls under the age of 17 without a prescription flies in the face of medical information and sound judgment."

The FDA's decision also falls short of its own stated position on the matter. In 2011, the FDA moved to grant unrestricted access to Plan B. However, the Department of Health and Human Services overruled that decision, keeping the age limit at 17. In permitting over-the-counter sales of Plan B to those 15 and up, the FDA has apparently pushed back against HHS and, by extension, the White House.

Then there's the court ruling. Earlier this month, a federal judge ordered the FDA to remove all restrictions on sales of Plan B within 30 days, so the latest change still leaves the FDA short of that mandate. The government has until May 5 to appeal the ruling or comply, but has yet to indicate which route it will take.

It seems the only party that got exactly what it wanted is the drug company TEVA Pharmaceuticals, whose application to sell Plan B the FDA was approved Tuesday.

 
Jon Terbush is an associate editor at TheWeek.com covering politics, sports, and other things he finds interesting. He has previously written for Talking Points Memo, Raw Story, and Business Insider.

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