On April 5, 2013, U.S. District Court Judge Edward Korman ordered the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to lift the age restriction on emergency contraception, known commonly as “the morning after pill” or “Plan B.” The FDA has since approved Plan B One-Step, a brand of emergency contraception, to be made available over-the-counter for women aged 15 and older.
Plan B is intended to be used when other contraception methods fail, such as when a condom breaks. The pill contains the synthetic hormone levonorgestrel, and works by preventing a fertilized egg from attaching itself to the uterine wall. It must be taken within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse. Plan B prevents pregnancy from occurring. Contrary to the arguments put forth by anti-choice lobbyists, it cannot terminate an existing pregnancy.
“This is a thinly-veiled attempt to get an abortion drug over-the-counter,” said Dr. Donna Harrison, president of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Central to the contentious debate over the ethics of the drug’s use is the disagreement over the exact moment that pregnancy begins. Pro-life arguments contend that pregnancy begins with fertilization, which typically occurs within 24 hours after intercourse, if a woman has just ovulated. However, many obstetricians and gynecologists maintain that, as it takes 5-7 days for the fertilized egg to implant in the uterus and begin to grow, if one interrupts the process before this implantation takes place, pregnancy never begins.
Despite the controversy associated with emergency contraception, the good news is women seeking to purchase Plan B will now be able to find it in the family planning and female health aisles of commercial retail stores, instead of having to rely on regular pharmacy opening hours. Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, welcomed the decision, stating:
“While there are still practical questions to resolve, this is an important step forward to expand access to emergency contraception and for preventing unintended pregnancy.”