WASHINGTON – The popularity of the morning-after pill Plan B has surged in the year since the federal government approved the sale of the controversial emergency contraceptive without a prescription.
Plan B sales have doubled since the Food and Drug Administration authorized the switch for women 18 and older last August, rising from about $40 million a year to what will probably be close to $80 million for 2007, according to Barr Pharmaceuticals, which makes Plan B.
The sharp rise was hailed by women’s health and family-planning advocates, who say it illustrates the value of easing access to birth control to help prevent unwanted pregnancies.
“This is exactly what we hoped would happen,” said Susan Wood of the George Washington University School of Public Health. As assistant commissioner for women’s health and director of the Office of Women’s Health at the FDA, Wood pushed for the switch. “What we’re seeing is women who needed this product now finally having access to it. For a woman in that position, it can make a real difference in her life.”
But conservative groups that fought the change say they are disturbed by the surging use.
“This is very concerning,” said Charmaine Yoest of the Family Research Council, which is among several groups suing the FDA to reverse the decision. “We think this is putting women’s health at risk.”
Plan B consists of higher doses of the hormones found in standard birth control pills. Taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, Plan B has been shown to be highly effective at preventing pregnancies.
With strong support from women’s health groups and family-planning advocates, Barr asked the FDA to allow Plan B’s sale without a prescription so women would not have to overcome the obstacle of getting a doctor’s permission before they could get the drug.
Conservative members of Congress and advocacy groups strongly opposed the move. They questioned the drug’s safety and argued that easier availability could encourage sexual activity and make it easier for men to have sex with underage girls. They also maintain the pill can cause the equivalent of an abortion.
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