The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has made the “Plan B” contraceptive available to 17 year-old women without a prescription. One pro-life leader has warned the decision treats pregnancy as a “disease” and could put young women and newly-conceived human beings at risk.
The move follows a March 23 federal court order requiring the drug Levonorgestrel—also known as the “morning after pill”--be made available to girls 17 and older without a prescription. The U.S. government said it would not appeal the decision.
The drug aims to prevent pregnancy when used within 24 hours of sexual intercourse.
Deirdre McQuade, Assistant Director for Policy and Communications at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, criticized the action in an April 23 statement.
Characterizing the decision as “court-driven,” McQuade said it “flies in the face of common sense.
“Levonorgestrel is a powerful drug, taken in two doses over a 12-hour period. It is 40 times more potent than comparable progestin-only birth control pills (Ovrette) for which a prescription is required.
“Wider access to Plan B could endanger the lives of newly-conceived children, and will put minors at risk for unnecessary side effects, undermine parental rights, and contribute to higher STD rates,” warned McQuade.
“Pregnancy is not a disease and fertility is not a pathological condition, so Plan B has no authentic therapeutic purpose, and can actually cause harm to women and their newly-conceived children,” she said.
McQuade commented that though the FDA describes “Plan B” as a contraceptive drug, the manufacturer admits that it may also prevent an embryo from implanting in the womb.
“Since it takes several days for the growing embryo to reach the uterine lining and implant in the mother’s womb, the child in his or her second week of life could die as a direct result of Plan B. This is properly understood as an early abortion.”
Without a doctor’s supervision, she said, many teens will be unaware of this possible abortifacient action and the other risks posed by the drug, especially when it is used repeatedly.
“Much to the surprise of the morning-after pill’s early advocates, five years of research in Europe and the U.S. shows that increased access to emergency contraception has failed to reduce rates of unintended pregnancy and abortion,” McQuade noted.
She said the drug’s distribution has led to “greater sexual risk-taking” among adolescents, which leads to a higher rate of sexually-transmitted disease.
“In the unlikely event a teenager will bother to read the Plan B package insert all the way to the end, she will find sound advice: ‘Of course, not having sex is the most effective way to prevent pregnancy and stay free of STDs,’” McQuade said.
Under President George W. Bush the FDA delayed making any decision on the drug for three years. In 2006 it allowed behind-the-counter sales to those 18 and older who showed proof of age, but still required a prescription for girls 17 and younger.
The manufacturer of “Plan B,” Barr Pharmaceuticals, Inc., may also market the drug to women 17 years and older after applying for and receiving approval from the FDA. The manufacturer had earlier sought to secure over-the-counter access for those 16 and older.
Barr was acquired by the Israeli company Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Ltd. in December 2008. Teva said sales of “Plan B” have more than doubled since it became available for adults in 2006.