HOST INTRO: A lawsuit increasing the availability of Plan B will go forward. A federal judge has denied the federal government’s request to dismiss the suit. Annie Russell reports the latest in a 7-year saga over limits on the controversial drug.
Annie Russell: The Center for Reproductive Rights filed suit to increase availability of the morning after pill in 2005. The lawsuit said the FDA’s restrictions on Plan B were “arbitrary and capricious.” In 2009, Judge Edward R. Korman agreed. Annie Tummino is the lead plaintiff in the suit. She said that ruling was a first step.
The FDA was actually ordered to allow 17-year-olds and up to have access to the pill at pharmacies without a prescription
Under the ruling, women 16 and under still need a prescription to get Plan B. The plaintiffs aren’t happy with that. They wanted the drug to be sold on pharmacy shelves. And in December, it looked like they were going to get what they want. The FDA said that it planned to lift all age restrictions on Plan B.
But Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled the FDA. President Barack Obama stood by Sebelius at a December press conference:
The reason Kathleen made this decision was she could not be confident that a ten-year-old or an eleven-year-old going to a drug store, should be able, along with bubble gum or batteries, to buy a medication that potentially, if not used properly, could have an adverse effect.”
The FDA disagrees with the President’s assessment. It found that there was no medical reason to limit Plan B. Annie Tummino says there are lots of medications on pharmacy shelves that could be dangerous.
But the risk versus the gain of making it over the counter. But it’s decided that it’s better to have access. I think this is no different.
The Intervention by Sebelius gave Plaintiff Annie Tummino and her lawyers an opportunity to re-open the lawsuit. They’ve added Sebelius as a defendant.
Tummino says young women face an undue burden to get to a doctor within 72 hours, or the Morning After Pill won’t work.
That’s an extreme burden, especially at that age, but really for any woman, to get to a doctor when this medication is most effective within 24 hours after sex. And for a young woman in particular, I think it’s difficult to get to the doctor, especially if they may not want their parents to know.
It’s older teens who have the most trouble getting Plan B, even under current regulations. Boston University researchers posed as 17-year-olds and called pharmacies in five cities inquiring about Plan B. Almost 1 in 5 told the researchers they couldn’t purchase the drug no matter what, even though it’s legal. When asked what the age restrictions were, pharmacy employees answered incorrectly 43% of the time.
The study also found that pharmacies in low-income neighborhoods were twice as likely to mis-inform callers.
Supporters of the lawsuit want pharmacists to be taken out of the equation altogether. Kathryn O’Grady is a social worker who specializes in contraception issues. She says the idea of interacting with a pharmacist may deter women from asking for Plan B.
O’ GRADY 1
I think it takes a lot of guts to go up to, especially if it’s a male pharmacist or a complete stranger and say like- admit that you need Plan B
But she says she worries that if it’s too easy to get Plan B, it could be abused.
I think it’s a concern that people will use Plan B as their regular method for birth control
She says that’s a problem, because Plan B only cuts pregnancy chances in half, unlike daily birth control pills and other forms of contraception, which have a 97% effectiveness rate.
Annie Russell, Columbia Radio News.