In a surprise move, the nation’s health secretary stopped the Plan B morning-after pill from moving onto drugstore shelves next to the condoms, deciding Wednesday that young girls shouldn’t be able to buy it on their own.
The Food and Drug Administration was preparing to lift a controversial age limit and make Plan B One-Step the nation’s first over-the-counter emergency contraceptive, available for purchase by people of any age without a prescription.
But Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius intervened at the eleventh hour and overruled her own experts.
Plan B instead will remain behind the pharmacy counter, as it is sold today — available without a prescription only for those 17 and older who show an ID proving their age.
Sebelius’ reason: Some girls as young as 11 are physically capable of bearing children, and Plan B’s maker didn’t prove that younger girls could properly understand how to use this product without guidance from an adult.
“It is common knowledge that there are significant cognitive and behavioral differences between older adolescent girls and the youngest girls of reproductive age,” Sebelius said in a statement. “I do not believe enough data were presented to support the application to make Plan B One-Step available over-the-counter for all girls of reproductive age.”
It was the latest twist in a nearly decade-long push for over-the-counter sales of pills that can prevent pregnancy if taken soon enough after unprotected sex. Major doctors’ groups and women’s health advocates say easier, quicker access to those pills could cut the nation’s high number of unplanned pregnancies.
The decision shocked maker Teva Pharmaceuticals, which had been gearing up for over-the-counter sales to begin by month’s end, and women’s health groups.