- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Food and Drug Administration announced Wednesday that the “morning-after” birth-control pill now will be available to teenage girls as young as 17 without a prescription, saying it won’t appeal a federal court order that overturned a Bush administration-era policy.

U.S. District Judge Edward Korman last month ruled in a New York lawsuit that Bush administration appointees had let politics, not science, drive their decision to allow over-the-counter access to the pills only for women 18 and older. Judge Korman ordered the agency to let 17-year-olds get the medication without a doctor’s prescription, and to evaluate whether all age restrictions should be lifted.

FDA scientists and many in the overall medical community for years had called for age restrictions to be lifted for the drug, commonly called Part B. But top Bush-appointed managers refused to go along with the recommendations.

The FDA said it has sent a letter to the drug’s manufacturer that it may, upon submission and approval of an application, begin marketing Plan B to girls and women 17 and older.

Plan B had been only available by prescription for girls 17 and younger.

Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America, accused the Obama administration - not the Bush administration - of playing politics at the expense of the health and well-being of teenage girls.

“The FDA should have challenged the decision, especially its false premise,” Ms. Wright said. “A judge’s opinion can’t change the fact that giving women a false impression about a drug’s effectiveness forces the FDA to become snake-oil salesmen.”

She added that because Plan B is a high-dose version of contraceptives that already are prescription-only and can cause blood clots, heart attacks and strokes, it is unsuitable for minors.

“Parents should be furious at the FDA’s complete disregard for parental rights and the safety of minors,” Ms. Wright said.

But supporters of the FDA decision praised it as leading to fewer - not more - abortions.

“It’s a good indication that the agency will move expeditiously to ensure its policy on Plan B is based solely on science,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “It’s time the FDA restores confidence in its ability to safeguard the public health and put medical science first.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights sued the FDA in 2005 for failing to grant over-the-counter status to Plan B against the advice of its scientific experts and in violation of its own procedures and regulations. The suit was filed on behalf of the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, the Morning-After Pill Conspiracy, and others.

If taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, Plan B can reduce a woman’s chances of pregnancy by as much as 89 percent. It contains a high dose of birth-control drugs and works by preventing ovulation, fertilization, or the implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus. That last possibility, though it is very hard to determine that it occurred in a given case, is what has led some religious groups to denounce the treatment as abortifacient.

If the embryo already has implanted itself, Plan B has no effect.

Women must ask for Plan B at the pharmacy counter and show identification with their date of birth. The treatment consists of two pills and typically sells for between $35 and $60.

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