US regulators rejected a drug company's request to make emergency contraception available over the counter to consumers of all ages instead of by prescription.
US Food and Drug Administration chief Margaret Hamburg sent a letter to reporters explaining she supports the move to allow the morning-after pill to be easily available to girls 12 and over.
However, she said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius disagreed with the FDA decision, and had invoked her authority to block the supplement for non-prescription use for females under 17.
Plan B One-Step will remain on the market and will remain available for all ages, but a prescription will continue to be required for females under the age of 17, Hamburg said.
Opposition draws from all sides
Currently, the morning-after pill – which can reduce the chance of pregnancy if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex – is available by prescription only to people under 17 in the United States.
Those over 17 can ask for it at a pharmacy counter without a doctor's prescription.
Teva Pharmaceuticals, maker of Plan B, asked the Food and Drug Administration to change its rules to allow its product, Plan B One-Step, to be easily accessible to all ages.
The attempt drew opposition from conservative pro-life groups, but was supported by pro-choice organisations.
(Sapa, December 2011)