Time to Get Emergency Contraception Right

The rules on who can get emergency contraception without a prescription are confusing. They don’t need to be, and they shouldn’t be, not for a drug deemed safe by government experts.

A recent study, though, revealed that many pharmacies are denying the medication to women who meet the legal requirements and don’t need a prescription.

There’s too much at stake for a woman when she’s trying to prevent an unintended pregnancy. Every hour that she cannot get emergency contraception increases the likelihood of a pregnancy. Getting it wrong can have sweeping implications for a woman’s health and future.

Our government has been getting it wrong on emergency contraception for more than a decade. We are back in court demanding that the government finally approve this vital drug—proven to be as safe as common cold medications—for use by all women without a prescription.

Our struggle began in 2001. The Center, along with its partners, asked the FDA through a Citizen Petition to make emergency contraception available over the counter. The FDA refused, and we filed suit in 2005. Four years later, a federal court ordered the agency to extend over-the-counter access to Plan B, one type of emergency contraception, and its generic equivalents, to women 17 and older. The judge also ordered the FDA to go back and reconsider making these medications available without a prescription for all age groups because the agency’s years of inaction were clearly based on politics rather than science.

A wide body of research indicates that emergency contraception is safer than many common over-the-counter medications. There is no reason Plan B and similar emergency contraceptives shouldn’t be available in the aisles next to aspirin and cold medicines, where all who need it can easily get it.

The FDA has plenty of science proving the safety of emergency contraception. That’s exactly why the agency’s scientists have repeatedly recommended its unrestricted availability to women of all ages. But in an astonishing, unprecedented move, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius—a political appointee—overruled this entire body of evidence in December 2011 .

As a result, an important healthcare advance is kept beyond the reach of many women who need it.

President Obama wasted little time after taking office in publicly declaring his support for evidence-based decision making:

“Science and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions of my Administration…The public must be able to trust the science and scientific process informing public policy decisions.”

Now, it’s time for Sec. Sebelius to make good on the promise that the president has made—to stop putting political concerns ahead of science and allow emergency contraception to be pulled out from behind the pharmacy counter once and for all.

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