March 22, 2012 — Girls ages 13 to 17 can safely use emergency contraception without a prescription, according to a study published this month in Obstetrics & Gynecology, Reuters reports. The study was among those FDA used last year to determine that Plan B One-Step should be sold without a prescription to women of all ages, but HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled that decision (Seaman, Reuters, 3/20). The drug remains available "behind-the-counter" for purchase without a prescription by people ages 17 and older, while those 16 and younger must obtain a prescription (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/8/11).
For the study, researchers at the University of California-San Francisco monitored 340 teen girls who visited health clinics in five cities to obtain Plan B One-Step. The teens were asked to read the information on the drug's box and decide whether they still wished to take EC.
Of the 340 participants, 311 -- about 92% -- correctly used the information on the box to determine whether to use EC, including 13 participants who opted not to use it because the window of effectiveness had passed. Of the 298 participants who chose to take the drug, 274 used it correctly. There was no association between whether a participant used the drug correctly and her age, the researchers found.
"There are no medical concerns. That's why the FDA approved it for them," Cynthia Harper, a study author and UCSF professor, said. She added, "The concern is more a social, political concern about adolescents having access to these contraceptives."
Megan Kavanaugh, a senior research associate at the Guttmacher Institute who was not involved in the study, said the findings show "that there is no scientific basis for the continued age restriction on over-the-counter access" (Reuters, 3/20).
Debra Ness, publisher & president, National Partnership
Andrea Friedman, associate editor & director of reproductive health programs, National Partnership
Marya Torrez, associate editor & senior reproductive health policy counsel, National Partnership
Melissa Safford, associate editor & policy advocate for reproductive health, National Partnership
Perry Sacks, assistant editor & health program associate, National Partnership
Cindy Romero, assistant editor & communications assistant, National Partnership
Justyn Ware, editor
Amanda Wolfe, editor-in-chief
Heather Drost, Hanna Jaquith, Marcelle Maginnis, Ashley Marchand and Michelle Stuckey, staff writers
Tucker Ball, director of new media, National Partnership