Well, it's official. The Food and Drug Administration yesterday said it will allow 17-year-olds to purchase the Plan B "morning after" pill over the counter. Until now, the contraceptive product—which prevents pregnancy if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex—was available only for those 18 and over who presented a valid ID to a pharmacist behind the counter. Younger teens needed a prescription to get access to it.
In a brief statement released on its website yesterday, the FDA said it would not appeal a judge's decision issued last month directing the agency to make emergency contraception available to 17-year-olds. But it also said the product won't become available to women of that age until the manufacturer of Plan B submits and receives approval for a labeling change—which could take some time.
Women's-health activists were cheered by the news. "Today's announcement by the FDA is a strong statement to American women that their health comes before politics," says Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood. "The U.S. has the highest rate of teen pregnancy among the most developed countries in the world. Providing birth control, including emergency birth control, to young women helps them make responsible decisions and avoid unintended pregnancy."
No word, though, from the FDA on when it will comply with the other order from the judge: to review whether emergency contraception can be made available without any age restriction. FDA spokesperson George Strait said in an E-mail that he's not aware of any "new requests" from the Plan B manufacturer for the FDA to review data in girls under 17. A spokesperson for Teva Pharmaceuticals says the company plans to file an application for 17-year-olds only and wouldn't comment on whether Teva will submit an application in the future for OTC use of Plan B in younger girls.