After a years-long battle in the courts, Plan B-One Step is is now available without a prescription on pharmacy shelves.
Since the early 2000s, women’s reproductive health groups have been pushing to get Plan B over-the-counter after studies showed the emergency contraceptive could safely be used by women, without a doctor’s supervision, to prevent pregnancy.
In 2011, the Food and Drug Administration granted its approval for making the birth control, which comes in one- and two-dose forms, available over-the-counter, but that decision was overruled by Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who expressed concerns that girls as young as 11 would be able to purchase the product without a prescription. HHS placed an age restriction on the emergency contraceptive, requiring anyone under age 17 to have a prescription while allowing older women over-the-counter access.
However, this spring, U.S. District Judge Edward Korman in Brooklyn overturned the decision, saying it was made in “bad faith and improper political influence.” In response, the FDA decided to allow Plan B One-step, the single dose version, to be sold over-the-counter to anyone aged 15 and older without a prescription. Korman refused to reverse his ruling, and in June, the Department of Justice dropped an initial plan to appeal, making it possible for Plan B One-Step to be sold in pharmacies, without a prescription and without any age restrictions.
(MORE: Timeline: The Battle For Plan B)
The emergency contraception’s manufacturer, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd, has been sending shipments of Plan B One-Step to pharmacies since mid-July to prepare for over-the-counter sales starting August 1.
Here are a few things you should know if you plan to buy Plan B:
You may have to work to find a drug store employee to sell you Plan B One-Step: Anyone, regardless of age or gender can now purchase Plan B One-Step without a prescription. But pharmacists have, and will continue to have the right to refuse to sell the emergency contraceptive if they have religious objections to birth control. Such conscience clauses require them to refer customers to other pharmacies to sell the product, and the same may also apply to employees who can now ring up Plan B One-Step.
Plan B One-Step will be sold with other sexual health products: Plan B One-Step will have new packaging that no longer contains age restrictions and will be sold at most large drugstore chains like Walgreens and CVS.
Know how it works: Plan B One-Step does not end a pregnancy once a woman is pregnant. The pill is designed to prevent pregnancy by keeping a woman’s ovary from releasing eggs for a longer period of time, by impeding fertilization or even by preventing a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. If a woman does take the emergency contraception after becoming pregnant, there is no evidence that it harms the fetus,
Cost: Emergency contraception can cost anywhere between $30 to $65. Ironically, now that Plan B One-Step is available over-the-counter, insurers may not be required to cover its cost; new health care rules call for reimbursement of all contraceptive methods approved by the FDA and prescribed by doctors.
Cheaper, generic versions have more restrictions: The FDA granted Teva three years to sell Plan B One-Step exclusively over- the-counter and without a prescription for women of all ages. That means that generic makers will be able to apply for approval for their products in 2016. But these versions will still come with age restrictions, since only the brand name product is available to all women. The generic version of the two-pill contraceptive, which is even cheaper, will only be available at the pharmacy counter without a prescription for girls 17 and up, and will require a prescription for girls under 17,
Talk to your pharmacist: There are other emergency contraception options, so you can still consult your pharmacist or doctor about which one is right for you. “Customers should consult with a pharmacist if they have questions regarding the product. We also encourage our customers to consult with their physician to determine if this pill is right for them and to discuss their options regarding a preventive birth control plan,” says Walgreens spokesperson Jim Cohn.
MORE:Critics and Supporters React To Decision to Expand OTC Access to Plan B