Morning-After Pill to Be Sold Over the Counter

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The morning-after pill, also known as Plan B, could hit shelves as an over-the-counter drug store product as early as May, thanks to a judge's ruling.

Morning After Pill

A federal judge ordered the Food and Drug Administration to allow emergency contraception drugs, such as Plan B, to be sold over the counter.

In his ruling, Edward Korman repeatedly referred to the "bad faith" resulting in restricted access to Plan B in the past. The FDA can appeal the ruling.

Currently, women under 17 need a prescription for emergency contraception.

Although women 17 and older don't need a prescription, the morning after pill is available only behind the pharmacy counter and an ID is required.

"Today science has finally prevailed over politics," said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which has fought for this since 2001.

"Women all over the U.S. will no longer face arbitrary delays and barriers."

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled the FDA's recommendation that emergency contraception be sold over the counter in December 2011.

The FDA spent 10 months reviewing scientific data before making its decision, but Sebelius said there wasn't enough data to declare the product safe.

Korman, of the District Court of Eastern New York, wrote:

"Indeed, it is hardly clear that the secretary had the power to issue the order, and if she did have that authority, her decision was arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable."

The morning after pill is intended to be used as its name implies - a Plan B - when other contraception fails, such as when a condom breaks in the act.

Containing the hormone levonorgestrel, it works by preventing a fertilized egg from attaching itself to the uterine wall. It must be taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex. 

Also, it cannot terminate an existing pregnancy.

Dr. Cora Collette Breuner, a pediatrician at Seattle Children's Hospital, said the ruling made her proud "as a woman and as a doctor and as a mother of three children.

"This statement and this ruling are long overdue and especially welcome by all of us at the American Academy of Pediatrics," Breuner told reporters.