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“Any guy who is older and taking advantage of a younger girl could put her on a pill,” Ms. Crouse said. Because birth control doesn’t prevent sexually transmitted diseases, she added, a girl not under a doctor’s care might contract a disease without knowing it.

“We are in an era where people are supposed to care about women, yet we’re being very cavalier about women’s health,” she said.

But ACOG officials said women can effectively protect themselves from side effects of oral contraceptives by “self-screening” using checklists.

“I think there is a lot of value in preventing unplanned pregnancy in the first instance,” said Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice. “And I think making emergency contraception available to women is a positive step forward for all of us.”

Pro-life pushback

According to the report, 50 percent of pregnancies in the United States are unplanned. After weighing the risks and benefits, ACOG said, members found that making oral contraceptives available over the counter would be the best move for women’s health.

But since abortifacients — which are designed to cause a newly impregnated egg to miscarry — are among the medications in question, Dr. Harrison said, ACOG is doing its member doctors a disservice by failing to determine whether or not most are pro-choice or pro-life.

She serves as research director for one of the organization’s largest interest groups — the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

ACOG has never polled its membership on [their] position on abortion, and yet they throw the whole weight of the membership into pro-abortion activism.”

But Mr. O’Brien called the move “a very common-sense, practical recommendation by doctors.”

“It makes no difference if you’re a Democrat or Republican — we should see it from a woman’s point of view and depoliticize contraception,” he said.

The ACOG recommendation didn’t address teen use of contraception. Despite protests from reproductive health specialists, current U.S. policy requires a girl younger than 17 to produce a prescription for the morning-after pill, meaning pharmacists must check customers’ ages. Regular birth control pills presumably would be treated the same way.

Prescription-only oral contraceptives have long been the rule in the U.S., Canada, Western Europe, Australia and a few other places, but many countries don’t require prescriptions.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.