The Doctor Is In: It's a new morning at the FDA for the morning-after pill


I can't speak for all scientists, but I think most of us are hopeful that the new administration will usher in a new era in which health policy is dictated by scientific evidence instead of religious and political ideology. An indication of just how much of a switch that would be from the previous administration is found in the recent decision by a federal judge in New York ordering the FDA to allow 17 year olds access to the morning-after pill without a prescription.

Marketed as Plan B, the morning-after pill (actually, it involves taking two pills) is intended as an emergency form of birth control after unprotected sex or if another form such as a condom fails. The FDA approved the drug for over-the-counter sales in 2006, but limited it to women 18 and older. The recent court ruling describes how that decision was just the last in a long line of arbitrary policies and delay tactics regarding the drug shaped by political pressure from President Bush's conservative base -- and frequently made in the face of recommendations by the agency's own advisory panels. Religious conservatives oppose Plan B on the grounds it's an "abortive agent," but by any objective measure, that's a stretch. In most cases, the morning-after pill works by preventing the release of the egg by the ovary or the union of egg and sperm -- i.e., the same way all oral contraceptives works. Only if fertilization has already taken place can the pill also prevent the zygote from attaching to the womb and forming an embryo.

Originally published