Emergency Contraception (EC)
Access to EC
Awareness and usage of EC:
There are many barriers preventing widespread
use of EC. An article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal
(CMAJ) listed some barriers which are certainly
true in the U.S. as well, for those women who are too young to purchase EC
without a prescription. Most barriers are related to lack of knowledge or denial
of the risk of pregnancy. But a major one is:
"... lack of
timely access to physicians or family planning clinics." 1
The CMAJ concludes that: "As the
effectiveness of emergency contraception is time-dependent, convenient
prescription and dispensing mechanisms are crucial to enabling its use."
Access to EC in the U.S.:
In the U.S.: Two brands of emergency contraceptives were originally
available in the U.S. Women under the age of 18 had to have a doctor's prescription. Unfortunately, they
have to be taken within a short time of intercourse. There often was
insufficient time for a young woman to get an appointment, obtain a prescription, get
the pills and take them within the 72 hour limit.
Some states passed legislation allowing trained pharmacists to dispense EC
without a doctor's prescription.
After a major battle, and an unusual temporary veto by the Commissioner of
the FDA, the FDA switched EC to non prescription status
for women 18 years and older. Kaiser Network's daily reports announced that:
"In 2006-AUG-24, the FDA approved Barr
Laboratories' Plan B for nonprescription sale to women and men 18 years and older throughout the
U.S. Barr agreed to send anonymous shoppers into pharmacies to test their
compliance with the age description. In addition, gas stations and
convenience stores are prohibited from selling the EC." 2
In practice, the age limit will probably not present a
significant barrier to innovative sexually active young women under 18-years-of-age. Most
will be able to make an arrangement with an older woman or man who will be able
to buy the pills for them.
Most newspapers' editorials and opinion pieces reacted positively to the
development on 2006-AUG-25. However some opinion pieces by conservative
Christian groups disapproved.
FDA allows access to EC for 17-year-olds:
The Center for Reproductive Rights launched a lawsuit against the
Food and Drug Administration (FDA), stating that EC should be made available
without prescription to "young women who might benefit most from this form of
A New York district court judge ruled on 2009-MAR-23 that the FDA's decision
during the Bush administration to restrict young women under the age of 18 from
having free access to EC was "arbitrary and capricious." The FDA announced on
APR-22 that it would not appeal the ruling. The FDA will implement the court
ruling after the manufacture of Plan B submits a request to the FDA.
Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America' (CWA) said the
decision was "driven by politics, not what is good for patients or minors. ...
Parents should be furious at the FDA's complete disregard for parental rights
and the safety of minors."
She appears to equate a single dose of EC with daily consumption of birth
control pills over an interval of many years. She said that: "The FDA requires a
prescription for the lower dose of the same drug for good reason. It can cause
blood clots, heart attacks, and strokes in healthy women."
Access to EC in Canada:
a popular EC, was approved for purchase without a prescription in Canada on
2005-APR-20. 4 They require only a consultation with a
pharmacist. The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada, the Canadian Medical
Association, Planned Parenthood Federation of Canada, the Canadian
Pharmacists Association, the College of Physicians and Surgeons, the
Federation of Medical Women of Canada, the Canadian Women's Health Network,
and the Canadian Nurses Association all approved of the move. The
medication is produced by Barr Pharmaceuticals' subsidiary Duramed
According to Medical News Today on 2005-APR-22:
"EC already was available without a doctor's prescription in the Canadian
provinces of British Columbia, Quebec and Saskatchewan, and provincial rules
say that pharmacists can refuse to dispense EC for moral or religious
reasons. ... The move makes Canada the 34th country worldwide to make
emergency contraception available without a doctor's prescription, according
to a Barr Pharmaceuticals representative."
Canadian Physicians for Life
expressed opposition, as did numerous Canadian pro-life and
conservative religious groups.
A public opinion survey
by Leger & Leger during 2004-MAY found that 81% of adults in Quebec and
70% of adults in all of Canada agreed that EC should be available
without a prescription. More details.
Associated essay on this website:
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Judith A. Soon, et al., "Effects of making emergency contraception
available without a physician's prescription: a population-based study,"
Canadian Medical Association Journal, 2005-MAR-29, Page 172-180. It is
online at: http://www.cmaj.ca/
- "Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report Summarizes
Editorials on Approval of Nonprescription Plan B Sales to Women Over Age
18," KaiserNetwork, 2006-AUG-28, at:
- Kathleen Gilbert, "FDA Caves, Makes Plan B Available to 17-Year-Olds
without Prescription," Life Site News, 2009-APR-23. at:
- "Health Canada Approves Emergency Contraceptive Plan B as OTC Drug,"
Medical News Today, 2005-APR-22, at:
Copyright © 1999 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published on 1999-JAN-13
Latest update: 2009-MAY-24
Author: B.A. Robinson