Think twice about how we let overseas use of Plan B guide us

“Morning-after pill” on display at a California pharmacy.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/File
“Morning-after pill” on display at a California pharmacy.

In “Plan B, and politics of parenthood” (Op-ed, April 14) Joan Vennochi offers a refreshingly nuanced view on US District Court Judge Edward Korman’s ruling which requires the Food and Drug Administration to lift age restrictions on the so-called morning-after pill.

In striking down age limits on Plan B, Korman sharply criticized Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ decision in 2011 to keep teens age 16 and under from buying Plan B over the counter, calling it “arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable.” Presumably referring to its use by teens overseas, Korman suggested that the hormonal agent was “among the safest drugs sold OTC.”

Here, Korman is falling victim to a widespread misperception that, because some industrialized nations have made Plan B available behind the counter to teens without a prescription, it is sufficiently safe and effective to be used over the counter. Behind the counter and over the counter are qualitatively different.


Behind the counter implies that dispensing of Plan B involves a learned intermediary to instruct the person who is requesting access to the product that the agent is not and should not be used as a routine birth control method. Moreover, in Britain, a country known for its relatively liberal policies on availability of drugs without a prescription, Plan B can only be sold behind the counter to people over 16.

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Surely, the decisions by overseas health authorities to make Plan B available behind the counter and to impose age restrictions were not arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable.

Joshua Cohen


The writer is senior research fellow with the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development.