Monday, August 5, 2013

From Access to Exclusivity: The Confusion Surrounding OTC Emergency Contraception for All Ages


by Megan Veith 

If anyone has been to a drug store recently, you may realize that there is a new box in the family planning section. Finally, women of all ages are now able to buy emergency contraception without ID or a prescription! After many legal battles over women’s right to choose when to have a baby and girls’ rights to make private health decisions, the FDA approved expanded access to Plan B One-Step last month. Jessica Arons, President and CEO of the Reproductive Health Technologies Project, celebrated this move, stating “[i]n a country where nearly half of all pregnancies are unplanned, effective and accessible back-up birth control isn’t just a matter of convenience; it’s an urgent health need.”

Plan B One-Step helps prevent pregnancy after sex by delaying or preventing ovulation. It does not work after you become pregnant and is not an abortion pill, but can actually reduce need for an abortion. To be most effective, it should be taken within 3 days after sex.

However, before people get too excited, the recent improvements still do not address a very serious concern – cost. Last week, the FDA granted the manufacturer of Plan B One-Step (Teva) exclusive rights to sell this drug over-the-counter to all ages. Essentially, this means that Teva has a sort of monopoly on selling this drug until 2016. This is troubling because Teva can now set the price for over-the-counter emergency contraception available to all ages.

Currently, Plan B One-Step costs between $40 and $50! That’s a lot of money for just one pill. Generic versions of this drug cost between $35 and $45. These high costs still result in barriers to accessing emergency contraception, for young girls and women who don’t always have this kind of money. Arons commented that women’s health advocates still have work to do since “[l]ower cost generics are still being held hostage to age restrictions and prescription requirements.”

Other emergency contraception options include ella, which is a one-pill drug that is available by prescription only. Ella differs from other brands because, unlike Plan B One-Step and other progestin-only drugs, it is made of ulipristal acetate and works closer to the time of ovulation. Also unlike other emergency contraceptive pills, ella is effective up to 5 days after sex, which is critical because sperm can live in a woman’s body for 5 days.  It is also believed to be more effective than Plan B One-Step and generic versions of Plan B One-Step, especially for overweight and obese women. Ella generally costs around $40.

There are also generic one-pill and two-pill levonorgestrel-based tablets. The generic one-pill versions will soon be over-the-counter for women 17 and older, while women 16 and younger will need a prescription. Generic two-pill versions are only available at the pharmacy counter for those 17 and older, while women 16 and younger need a prescription.

It is important that women’s health advocates continue to fight for their basic human rights. Being a woman shouldn’t mean that you have to pay more for necessary health care or that you should have to wait for government and judicial approval in order to take the best care of your body.


Megan Veith is currently a legal intern at Legal Voice. She just finished her second year at Georgetown University Law Center, after graduating with her Bachelor’s Degree at the University of Washington. Megan is a strong advocate for women’s rights and is thrilled at the opportunity to fight for equality for all people at Legal Voice.

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