Why Limiting Over-The-Counter Plan B To Girls Over 15 Is Still An Ineffective Policy

Written by Tara Culp-Ressler

On Tuesday, the FDA announced that it will lower the age restriction on over-the-counter emergency contraception sales, allowing teens 15 years old and up to purchase Plan B without a prescription. Currently, only those 17 and older can buy this type of contraception over the counter. The new FDA guidelines will also move Plan B onto pharmacy shelves next to the condoms; previously, it was kept behind the counter and those who wanted to purchase it had to ask a pharmacist to retrieve it.

As Planned Parenthood noted in a statement on Tuesday, removing the restrictions on Plan B for 15- and 16-year-olds is certainly a step in the right direction in terms of expanding access to birth control. But, even though the age has been lowered, maintaining an unnecessary age restriction on over-the-counter sales is still a policy that ultimately undermines women’s health. Here’s why the FDA’s new policy is still problematic:

– It still isn’t based in science. There’s no scientific reason to impose age restrictions on Plan B. In fact, back in 2011, the FDA determined that the contraceptive can be used safely by girls and women of any age. Nevertheless, the Department of Health and Human Services overruled the FDA to restrict Plan B for Americans under 17 years old — a move that a U.S. federal judge target=”_blank”recently criticized as “political interference.” Studies have shown that Plan B is safer than aspirin, which is obviously available for purchase over the counter for people of any age. Multiple medical groups have come out in favor of making emergency contraception available to all women over the counter. The continued efforts to police it — earlier this month, the Obama administration falsely asserted that Plan B could be too “dangerous” for young women to take correctly — seem to be based in paternalism rather than in actual scientific fact.

– It imposes an additional burden on women of every age who will have to provide proof of age. When the old FDA guidelines restricted emergency contraception for those under 17, it created issues even for those who were well above the age limit. Women’s health advocates argue that this type of age restriction perpetrates a stigma that makes it harder for everyone to access Plan B, as pharmacists often falsely tell older women they may not purchase emergency contraception without a prescription or incorrectly deny Plan B to men. And requiring women to prove their age — the new Plan B packaging will include a product code that prompts the cashier to verify the customer’s age — could present a significant hurdle for women who don’t have ID on them.

– It leaves out undocumented women and potentially younger teens. Undocumented immigrant women do not necessarily have the proof of age that the FDA stipulates is required under its policy, like a driver’s license, a passport, or a birth certificate. Even the immigrant women who are much older than 17 may not be able to purchase emergency contraception if the cashier insists on seeing one of those government-issued documents. And younger teens who may not have a license or a passport, which could apply to many 15-year-olds, will be denied emergency contraception. “If a 15-year-old is unable to verify their age, they will not be able to purchase Plan B One-Step,” an FDA spokeswoman told the Washington Post.

– It doesn’t fully address a recent ruling that the FDA must make Plan B available to all women over the counter. The FDA clarified that Tuesday’s announcement is completely unrelated to a recent court decision that ordered the agency to remove all age restrictions for Plan B. At the beginning of April, a federal judge ruled that the FDA must make emergency contraception over the counter for all women. The Obama administration has four days left to decide whether to comply with that ruling or appeal it. This separate announcement may be seen as somewhat of a compromise, but since it’s not actually in response to that judge’s order, it doesn’t really do anything to address that pending legal issue.

Another unresolved issue with the Obama administration’s Plan B policy is the matter of insurance coverage. Obamacare requires insurers to cover all FDA-approved contraceptives without charging a co-pay, and that includes over-the-counter emergency contraception. But as the policy stands now, women must still have a prescription from their doctor in order to get insurance coverage for the birth control that they purchase over the counter — without that prescription, they have to pay for it out of pocket. Many women, particularly younger teens, may not be able to afford the full cost of Plan B, which is typically around $50. But requiring them to get a prescription for this time-sensitive medication often defeats the point.

Update: The American College of Obstrecians and Gynecologists has released a statement in response to the FDA’s new policy. The group of medical experts commends the FDA’s attempt to expand access to emergency contraception for teens, but reiterates that “the medical evidence demonstrates that EC is safe and effective in preventing pregnancy for all reproductive-age females” and “the College strongly encourages the FDA to reaffirm its earlier decision to approve EC for unrestricted over-the-counter access.”

This post was originally published by ThinkProgress.



Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill5 years ago

...but these are children! They parents should have to be involved!

Anna Undebeck
Anna Undebeck5 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Christine W.
Christine W5 years ago

Thanks for posting.

Tim C.
Tim C5 years ago


Stephen B.
Stephen B5 years ago

Go to Google and enter "I'm 10." The site lists the most common search that begins with that phrase, It completes it with "and I'm pregnant." As you increase the second digit, the "I'm 12 and what is this" meme swamps the next few search lists (but "I'm pregnant" is still in the top 4). When you reach 17, "and I'm a virgin" seems to be the greater concern.

If pregnancy seems to be a common concern among 10-year-olds, allowing them to purchase something "safer than aspirin" may be a good idea. With all the media hype generated by this issue, they've heard that it must be taken within 72 hours of sexual intercourse to be effective.

Ryan B.
Ryan B5 years ago

Sex happens. Pregnancy happens. If it was not intended to happen (preganancy) wouldn't you bible thumpers rather the girl/woman stop the pregnancy many days before the cells form into any semblance of a human being and abort the human fetus anyway? You people just don't make any sense. You don't want abortion but you don't want females ending pregnancies before a heart even begins to form, much less beat. All you want is every pregnancy to come to full term, human fetus be born into the world and then if the baby (at that point the fetus becomes a human baby) is not wanted you wash your hands of it. There are things worse than death in this world. Apparantly anyone who is for what I just described has led a very closed minded life and has never seen the real world.

Darryll Green
Darryll Green5 years ago

Lloyd H, get your head out of you a$%, just because a GIRL is able to be sexually active doesn't mean she needs to be, most young women are not mature enough even at 17 or 18 to have a child, here in florida in the last month 4 children under the age of 5 were killed because of either their mother or their boyfriend and the oldest person charged with murder was 27
Let's cut the crap if a female can get pregnant she is a woman, a fully sexually mature female woman. And if she thinks she needs it she probably does. Regardless of what her parents taught her, I doubt that she is asking permission to have sex. Some want to blame the parents, could be if they are Bible Humping morons and/or live in a Bible Humping state that considers abstinence only to be education with any kind of value. Consider the big mouth Palin, her bastard grandchild and hypocrite daughter. You can lie about it all you want but the facts are the facts regardless of your religious Agenda; it is safer than aspirin, no doubt as dangerous for allergic reactions and interaction with other drugs as the herbal supplements you take without telling your doctor, it is not an abortifacient it is a contraceptive, and being over the counter only the person purchasing it pays not you, although if you ban it the cost to All Americans goes way up due to the unintended pregnancy and all the costs involved.

Marianne C.
Marianne C5 years ago

Sharon R:

A girl doesn't have to be of age to use contraceptives any more than she has to be of age to be sexually active.

Plan B is NOT THE SAME THING as a medication abortion. Plan B prevents fertilization. We used to think it might prevent implantation, but recent studies have proven it doesn't, more's the pity.

If a girl waits too long to use Plan B, and finds that she's pregnant, her next option might be RU-486, which is a medication abortion. It's a safer option for any woman than a surgical abortion, and certainly safer than pregnancy and childbirth. ESPECIALLY for girls under age 15, for whom the risks of pregnancy and childbirth are about three time higher than average.

Ro H.
Ro H5 years ago


paul m.
paul m5 years ago