The “morning after” pill can be bought today from the shelves of most pharmacies and grocery stores, available to anyone of any age without restrictions, in a step that profoundly eases access to emergency contraception.
This simple relocation of the once-controversial “Plan B One Step” — next to condoms, tampons and sanitary napkins, instead of behind pharmacy counters — represents the final step in a complex decadelong legal battle to make it more easily available to women who want to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex.
The government sought to keep it age-restricted, but dropped that fight in June after losing a series of court battles.
At Walmart, “it is currently in the process of being shipped to stores, and will begin arriving in stores, to the family planning section, next week,” said Walmart spokeswoman Danit Marquardt.
Nationwide chains such as Walgreens, CVS and Safeway all said they were moving the product Wednesday night to the health, feminine hygiene or family planning aisles of their stores. It is already available at Rite Aid.
Some independent pharmacies are rearranging shelves, as well.
Women in California, for example, have not needed a prescription to buy the product, but they had to ask for it at a pharmacy counter.
That’s a step that could intimidate young women. And if a pharmacy was closed, it delayed access to a time-sensitive medication. A federal judge ruled that restrictions were “arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable.”
Plan B, trademarked as Plan B One-Step, is similar to birth control pills, but at a higher dose. It is designed to prevent pregnancy up to 72 hours after unplanned sex, but is more effective the sooner you take it.
“We are incredibly excited about this development,” said Lupe Rodriguez of Planned Parenthood-Mar Monte, based in San Jose, Calif. “Access alongside other medications, like Tylenol, will make it incredibly more available to women.”
The product’s opponents, such as the Sacramento-based National Right To Life Committee and the pregnancy counseling centers Birthright, did not return calls in time for this story.
The decision to make the product available came after a string of legal defeats. In June, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit refused to delay part of a lower-court judge’s order to make the pill available over the counter to people of all ages.
It is not cheap, with the retail price ranging from $50 to $70, and critics say that it will be unaffordable for many teens. It is free at Planned Parenthood clinics, but an appointment is needed.
The drug is made by Israeli company Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, which has been granted three years of exclusive marketing rights by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The price is unlikely to drop until 2016, but the cost is less than an abortion or unintended birth, said supporters.
“Women can just get a little supply to keep at their homes, just in case,” said Rodriguez.