UPDATE: Plan B One-Step emergency contraception is now available over the counter without a prescription or age restrictions. Here’s what we know about it so far!
There’s been a lot of talk in recent days about an expected FDA decision to make Plan B One-Step, a popular form of emergency contraception (EC) , available to all without a prescription. Many were surprised to hear today that U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius opted against the change, despite the recommendations of the FDA.
If you’re saying to yourself, “wait a minute—I thought EC was already available without a prescription,” you’re right—mostly. Plan B One-Step and Next Choice (a generic form of the original Plan B) are already available over the counter to anyone 17 years and older. But those 16 and younger need a prescription from their doctor, so both Plan B One-Step and Next Choice* are sold from behind the pharmacy counter.
Although the population most obviously affected by the decision is teens under 17, this has real implications for older women, too. Making Plan B One-Step available without a prescription would’ve meant it could be sold off the shelf in drug stores and, by extension, in supermarkets, big box retailers, and perhaps even convenience stores or gas stations right next to the toothpaste and aspirin. Making Plan B One-Step more accessible would’ve been especially awesome since it becomes less effective the longer you wait to take it. The easier it is to run out to the nearest store and get some, the faster you’ll be able to take it—and the better it’ll work.
When you need emergency contraception, taking time to get a prescription or a last minute appointment with a health care provider can add stress and uncertainty to an already stressful situation. So while EC methods like the copper IUD and ella are more effective for longer (up to 5 days and just as effective on day 5 as on day 1), Plan B One-Step and Next Choice are still the most convenient options for many people.
Remember, just because Plan B One-Step is staying behind the pharmacy counter doesn’t mean you have to be at the mercy of pharmacy hours or judgy pharmacists. Get some EC to keep in your medicine cabinet so it’s on hand if you need it.
*The FDA’s decision would not have affected Next Choice.