The Obama administration announced late Monday that it would, finally, make Plan B One-Step available on store shelves without a prescription and with no age or ID restrictions. It’s a huge victory for meaningful access to back-up birth control.
What happens now? Don’t expect to see the product at your neighborhood pharmacy instantly. The manufacturer of Plan B One-Step must apply to the Food and Drug Administration, and the FDA must approve the application. And one or two more potentially weird plot twists could come up.
Remember the scathing judicial opinion that ordered the government to put emergency contraception on store shelves? That judge still must confirm that the administration’s plan is good enough to meet his requirements, and that is not necessarily a sure thing: In the court filing, the administration sounds like a kid who knows he’s in trouble but is still trying to see just how much he can get away with. The government does not include the two-pill version of emergency contraception in its plan, even though a higher court just last week ordered it to make that version available without restrictions. The administration also hints that they may give Teva, the manufacturer of Plan B One-Step, some marketing exclusivity, which means it would be several years before the cheaper generic version is fully available to the same extent. And while the FDA promises to approve Plan B One-Step “without delay,” after a decade of nothing but delay, that promise feels a little empty.
Since 1999 when the FDA first approved the pill, lawyers and advocates (including my colleagues at the Reproductive Health Technologies Project have fought this one out with two administrations, and the path has not been smooth or straight. Battles raged in and out of court to bring the morning-after pill to market, to get it available over the counter, to 18 and older, then to 17 and older, and most recently to 15 and older. But really today’s win has felt inevitable for months, and the administration apparently finally saw it had nowhere left to go.