Last week the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finally said that a female over 18 years old can go to a drug store to buy a pill called Plan B (or the “morning after pill”) without a doctor’s prescription that will give her a good chance that she won’t become pregnant if she takes it within 72 hours of having unprotected sex.
It has taken the FDA three years to decide whether females of any age should be able to walk into a drug store and buy the pills right off the shelf. As expected, the Bush White House was opposed to this, and so Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach, the FDA acting commissioner who wanted badly to become the commissioner, stalled around and finally came up with a plan that is OK by some people but not everyone. According to a story in the Democrat-Gazette, President Bush said, “I support Andy’s decision.”
Although they really preferred the simple walk-in anywhere and by almost any age, Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York and Patty Murray of Washington then lifted their Senate hold on Eschenbach’s promotion, for which he had been waiting more than a year. It was sort of a better-than-nothing conclusion.
The new plan requires that only women 18 and older can buy Plan B without a prescription, but not from the shelf. They have to go to a pharmacy or a store that has a pharmacy and buy the pills, provided there’s a pharmacist on duty and they can show their identification and prove their age. Females younger than 18 have to have prescriptions.
Barr Pharmaceuticals, which sells Plan B, won’t be allowed to sell the product to gas stations and convenience stores, where many companies sell their condoms. But you can’t feel sorry for the company since it says it charges $25 to $40 for a package.
It will be fall before Plan B will be for sale because the company said it was going to change the packaging and its instructions. However, Barr Pharmaceuticals in about a year has already sold about 1.5 million packages of Plan B working with physicians in nine states. I don’t believe much Plan B had ever been sold in Arkansas.
The company also plans to sell Plan B to states that supply medicine for the poor. So far, the Arkansas Health Department has not yet decided whether it will supply women with Plan B. People I talked to in the department said that the cost of the pill was very high.
When Plan B was being sold in the other states, I called a few Walgreen stores in Little Rock that said they didn’t have Plan B to sell. USA Drug, which has its headquarters in Pine Bluff for the 125 stores it has in several states, was telling its customers in Little Rock and North Little Rock that it was not selling Plan B. Last week I tried to talk to two officers of the company to find out if their company would sell Plan B now. Neither of the executives returned my call.
Things are different today among young people; they read, hear and see more than American kids used to, and much of it is about sex. So I think something like Plan B is needed and ought to be available to any teenager to eliminate an abortion. So did 79 percent of 3,885 Americans who were asked in a Wall Street Journal survey. And, so did many people in medicine and scientists in the FDA.
Young girls of poor parents or those who don’t really care for them or those who have too many kids to watch probably can’t or won’t go to a doctor to get a prescription for a child. That’s why I think Plan B should be available to girls from 15 years up without a prescription. They ought to be able to walk in a store and buy a Plan B just as their male partner of any age can buy a condom anywhere.
Look at the statistics of the number of young girls who get pregnant whether they wanted to or are forced to have sex. Since the Supreme Court made abortion legal in 1973, every year there have been something like 1.3 million abortions in the country and about 5,500 in Arkansas. About 19 percent of those seeking them are teenagers.