Plan B debate intensifies as FDA ponders OTC possibility

The FDA has decided to consider making Plan B available over-the-counter (OTC) to women 18 and older.

The FDA has decided to consider making Plan B available over-the-counter (OTC) to women 18 and older.

Also known as the morning-after pill, Plan B is currently only available by prescription and works to block pregnancy by administering a high dose of the hormones regularly found in birth control within 72 hours of unprotected sex.

The battle to make Plan B available OTC has been raging for almost three years now; some critics say that making Plan B available would cause teens to be promiscuous. Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and Patty Murray (D-WA) said they would block a floor vote of the confirmation hearings for Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach to become director of the FDA until it has made a final decision on the drug's sale.

Why does it matter?

"This issue, like so many other reproductive health issues, falls under the umbrella of 'politicized science,'" says Ame Wadler, chief strategic officer and worldwide chairman of global healthcare for Burson-Marsteller. "With that in mind, it's unlikely that activists or oppositionists will be happy with any communications to women on Plan B."

Wadler advises that the communications for such a product be educationally focused, factual, and unbiased regardless of the decision a woman may or may not make. "The goal should be to provide her ample information to make an informed, but extremely personal choice," she adds. "It's important for women to have choice vis a vis their reproductive health. It's also critical it be an educated choice and that their options be informed by rigorous science. Plan B appears to offer [that]."

Five facts:

1 In August 2005, Dr. Susan Wood resigned as the director of the Women's Health division of the FDA in protest over its handling of the Plan B application; citing that the FDA's decision to postpone the OTC sale of Plan B was "contrary to my core commitment to improving and advancing women's health."

2 According to AllPoints Research's survey of 300 women, nearly 33% thought Plan B functioned just like the abortion pill RU-486. Less than 8% of the population surveyed understood it is not effective if a woman is already pregnant.

3 In March, Wal-Mart announced that all of its pharmacies would be stocked with Plan B, but that its pharmacists would not be required to fill the prescriptions.

4 The American College of Obstetricians launched a campaign in May to encourage women to get an advance prescription of Plan B.

5 Barr Pharmaceuticals, the makers of Plan B, met with the FDA on Tuesday, August 8, to discuss packaging and consumer access for the drug.

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