Pro-choice activists said Tuesday they are preparing another push to lobby the Obama administration to loosen restrictions on "emergency contraception" for women of any reproductive age.
Some 40 organizations are planning to make their case to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius this week, Kirsten Moore, president and chief executive of the Reproductive Health Technologies Project, said in a media briefing.
"This coalition feels the time is now to read the science and the evidence supporting nonprescription access to emergency contraception," Ms. Moore said at the briefing organized by RH Reality Check, a site that bills itself as "committed to advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights."
These products "are safe enough and appropriate enough to be on the shelf — right between the condoms and the pregnancy-test kits," she said.
Last year, the Food and Drug Administration approved the so-called Plan B One-Step emergency contraceptive for over-the-counter (OTC) status. However, Mrs. Sebelius blocked the change in status, saying more research was needed about the product and young teens.
Emergency contraception refers to birth-control products that can prevent a pregnancy from progressing if taken within 72 to 120 hours after unprotected sex.
These "morning-after" products currently are kept behind the counter of pharmacies because girls 16 and younger must have a prescription to get them.
Traditional-values groups such as Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute and Concerned Women for America have objected to OTC status for these products, citing primarily health and safety issues for young teens. For instance, there is nothing to prevent men from exploiting young girls or pressuring them to get and use these products without their parents' or doctors' knowledge, they argue.
All Mrs. Sebelius is doing is insisting that girls under 16 "consult their doctors first" if they want to use this product, the Family Research Council said last year in its defense of the secretary's decision.
There is momentum, however, to open the gates for birth control wider than ever.
In November, the United Nations Population Fund said that family planning, including emergency contraception, is a "human right" and should be universally accessible throughout the world.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists also recently called for all oral contraceptives to be sold over the counter, and the American Academy of Pediatrics also said most emergency-contraception products should be made available without prescriptions.
"Emergency contraception is an incredibly safe drug and a simple drug," Ms. Moore said Tuesday. "When it comes to emergency contraception, time is of the essence. Making people get a prescription, and get that prescription filled, is a barrier to care — and we don't need to be putting that barrier in people's ways."
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