FDA approves Plan B over-the-counter emergency contraception for women 18 and older

August 2006

 August 25, 2006 – Yesterday the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that Plan B emergency contraception, which is taken after unprotected sex to avoid an unintended pregnancy, has been approved for over-the-counter use by women 18 years and older. Although the age restriction imposed by the FDA creates an unnecessary barrier to access for adolescents, the announcement that Plan B will be available over-the-counter in the United States is welcome news. Plan B is safe and effective, and easier access to emergency contraception has the potential to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies, which represent a serious public health problem in the US and appear to be on the rise among women of color and low-income women. 

Over-the-counter access to emergency contraception is only the first step, however. If we are truly serious about reducing unintended pregnancies and abortions in the US, we must improve access to all family planning methods for all women. Available for over 40 years and used by millions of women, oral contraceptives (birth control pills) are one of the best-studied medications on the market today, and they have been proven safe, effective and easy to use. Oral contraceptives meet the FDA's requirements for a medication to be available over-the-counter. However, an over-the-counter switch for oral contraceptives must be accompanied by changes in the financing and distribution of contraceptives to improve coverage and ensure access for all women. We must not let a flawed health care system stand in the way of access to family planning and an opportunity to improve women’s health. The approval of Plan B as an over-the-counter product is a momentous step for American women and their partners and will undoubtedly allow couples to plan their pregnancies better. The next step is to ensure that all women have access to safe, affordable contraception by making daily oral contraceptives available over-the-counter as well.