WASHINGTON — In a surprise move, the government's top health official overruled her own drug regulators and stopped the Plan B morning-after pill from moving onto drugstore shelves next to the condoms.
The decision by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius means the Plan B One-Step emergency contraceptive will remain behind pharmacy counters, as it is sold today — available without a prescription only to those 17 and older who can prove their age.
The Food and Drug Administration was preparing to lift the age limit Wednesday and allow younger teens to buy it without a prescription. That would have made Plan B the nation's first over-the-counter emergency contraceptive, a pill that can prevent pregnancy if taken soon enough after unprotected sex.
But Sebelius intervened and overruled FDA, deciding that young girls shouldn't be able to buy the pill on their own.
FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg made clear that the decision was highly unusual. She said her agency's drug safety experts had carefully considered the question of young girls, and that she had agreed that Plan B's age limit should be lifted.
"There is adequate and reasonable, well-supported and science-based evidence that Plan B One-Step is safe and effective and should be approved for nonprescription use for all females of child-bearing potential," Hamburg wrote.
Major doctors' groups and contraception advocates say quicker access to morning-after pills could cut the nation's high number of unplanned pregnancies.