The Associated Press
ORLANDO, Fla. - The American Medical Association approved a resolution yesterday asking the government to consider making the "morning-after" contraceptive available over-the-counter.
The AMA's policy-making House of Delegates passed the recommendation without discussion during a convention in Orlando.
"This is a wonderful decision by the AMA. This is a terrific resolution," said Joan Coombs, senior vice president of Planned Parenthood.
Coombs estimated that widespread use of the morning-after pill could prevent annually 1.7 million unplanned pregnancies and 800,000 abortions.
The Vatican recently condemned the emergency contraceptive and the nation's largest retailer, Wal-Mart, decided last year not to sell it in any of its 2,400 pharmacies.
Coombs said that if the FDA moves to make the drug over-the-counter, "it will make it (the morning after pill) more acceptable and consumers well demand it. Acceptance will be market-driven," she said.
Taken within three days of sexual intercourse, the morning after pill prevents ovulation or, if it's already occurred, blocks implantation of a fertilized egg. A report by the AMA's Council on Medical Service suggests that women might not be able to get the pills in time to prevent a pregnancy unless they're made available over-the-counter.
An AMA committee debated the issue on Sunday and sent its recommendation to the full House of Delegates.
Some of those who testified Sunday said selling the pills over-the-counter would lead to lost opportunities to counsel patients on sexually transmitted diseases.
Though morning-after pills are not as widely opposed as the RU-486 prescription abortion pill approved by the FDA in September, foes consider them a form of abortion since an egg could have been fertilized by the time a woman takes them.
Planned Parenthood does not consider the method abortion since it does not work if a fertilized egg has already implanted itself in the uterus, the scientific definition of pregnancy.
The National Right to Life Committee statement said the group opposes destroying a fertilized egg but has no position on methods to prevent fertilization.
There are two morning-after pills on the market: Preven and Plan B. They were approved for U.S. use within the past two years.
Morning-after pills can cause side effects, most commonly nausea and vomiting. Headaches, breast tenderness and changes in menstrual periods also have been reported, but the AMA report suggests serious side effects are rare.
The pills are "considered safe and effective by the medical community as a whole," the report said. It also stated that efforts are needed to improve awareness about their availability.
The issue of selling the morning-after pill over-the-counter was first brought before the AMA last year.