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FDA considers approval of Plan B contraceptive

By Ariel Serafin
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, April 12, 2005
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The Food and Drug Administration will reach a decision tomorrow that could allow Plan B, a form of emergency contraception currently offered by prescription, to be available over-the-counter.

Lester M. Crawford, the nominee to become the next FDA commissioner, indicated the FDA may approve over-the-counter status for the emergency contraception Plan B brand pill, said Alberta Hopkins, the triage nurse at Campus Health Service Women's Health Center.

Plan B effects the body much like regular birth control pills, but is capable of preventing pregnancy up to 120 hours after unprotected sexual intercourse, although it is most effective within 72 hours.

According to a Feminist Majority Foundation press release, widespread access to emergency contraception could prevent up to 800,000 unplanned pregnancies per year.

Nisha Gulati, a senior campus organizer for the Feminist Majority Foundation, said the primary benefit of over-the-counter emergency birth control would be its accessibility.

"Increased access is what it's all about," Gulati said.

Gulati said in situations like one where a condom breaks on a Friday night, there's no reason why a woman should wait until the following Monday when doctors' offices and clinics are open, because Plan B's effectiveness drops dramatically with time.

Hopkins said making emergency contraception available over the counter would encourage women who engaged in risky sexual behavior to take care of their health.

"It absolutely should go over the counter. It should be readily available 24 hours a day," Hopkins said.

Hopkins said often times a woman's lack of knowledge, time or funding prevent her from getting a prescription for Plan B.

"A lot of times they aren't aware of how to contact people after hours, or they might not want the expensive exam," Hopkins said.

Opponents of Plan B's over-the-counter availability may cite women's misuse or overuse of emergency contraception as their reason for their opposition. However, Hopkins does not think women will be tempted to use Plan B as their only form of birth control.

"It's a fact that when used as the primary source of birth control it's not as effective as the birth control pill," Hopkins said. "It's not effective enough to ease their minds.

Emergency contraception is typically 70 percent effective in preventing pregnancy, while the birth control pill is approximately 99.6 percent effective, Hopkins said.

Gulati also said she didn't think women would confuse emergency contraception with normal birth control.

"I trust women and people to be smarter than that," Gulati said. "If you're going to take emergency contraception regularly you're obviously not opposed to used other hormonal methods."

Vicki Norkus, a nutritional sciences freshman, said she feels providing Plan B over the counter would lead to misuse.

"I don't think it should be that available. I think it's just going to be too easy for people to take advantage of the convenience of unsafe sex," Norkus said.

Chelsea Burton, a political science freshman, said while non-prescription emergency birth control is a good idea in theory, it may be far less successful in real life.

"I think it sounds like a good idea, but I can see that being abused way too much. Instead, people should be having safe sex and being on birth control," Burton said.

Janice Scott, a molecular and cellular biology and physiology freshman, said although over-the-counter emergency contraception would be helpful in many cases, it wasn't quite enough to ensure a woman's reproductive health.

"I believe it should be available in cases like rape where people don't feel comfortable going in and talking about it with someone," Scott said. "However, when they're given the (emergency contraception) pills, they should be given something else too like an information sheet that would tell them more about their sexual health."

Emergency contraception is currently available at Campus Health by prescription without a pelvic exam. Hopkins encourages UA women to call the after-hours number at (520) 570-7898 if they are in risk of becoming pregnant.

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