Emergency contraception: coming soon to a teenager near you

As the FDA announces plans to make Plan B available to 17 year olds, Britain prepares to air its first morning-after pill commercials.

Published April 23, 2009 1:17PM (EDT)

As you may remember, last month a judge ordered the FDA to begin distributing Plan B, the morning-after pill, over the counter to women ages 17 and up. In some more great Obama-era reproductive rights news, on Wednesday the agency announced that it will comply with the decision as soon as it receives necessary information from Plan B's manufacturer, Barr Pharmaceuticals Inc. "The government will not appeal this decision," said the FDA in a statement. Wait, seriously? We finally have a government that isn't going to try and control women's bodies? (As Reuters helpfully reminds us, "The FDA under President George W. Bush delayed making any decision [on the drug's over-the-counter status] for three years.")

Unfortunately, though, this doesn't mean 17 year olds will have instant, prescription-free access to Plan B; that could still take up to 10 months. And there will still be a good deal of red tape to cut through before the FDA can evaluate the drug's over-the-counter suitability for younger teenagers.

Meanwhile, across the pond, pro- and anti-choice groups are squabbling over the country's first TV ad for Levonelle One Step, Britain's version of the morning-after pill. The commercial is set to begin airing after 9pm tonight. Although the drug's manufacturer, Bayer Schering Pharma, doesn't seem to have released video of the spot yet, the Independent provides a quick preview: "Viewers will see a woman waking up next to her partner and later asking for Levonelle One Step at a pharmacy."

Levonelle, as a non-prescription medication (available for women 16 and older), is perfectly within its rights to advertise on TV, and pro-choice advocates are cheering the commercial's potential for raising awareness about the morning-after pill. But even though the UK is fairly progressive when it comes to reproductive rights, there are still a handful of anti-choice extremists around to distort the facts. Dominica Roberts of the ProLife Alliance, who seems to have a fuzzy understanding of the word "conception," offers the following analysis: Levonelle  "is advertised inaccurately as emergency contraception, when in fact its major function is to cause the abortion of an embryo that has already been conceived, not as suggested by the name to prevent conception."

Both developments are major victories in the battle for greater access to and education about emergency contraception. And who knows? If the tide of progressivism keeps rising, perhaps we'll see morning-after pill ads on American TV, too.

UPDATE: Well, what do you know? Thanks to letter writers, we realized that there are American ads for Plan B. Thanks for pointing out the mistake. You can watch the commercial below.


By Judy Berman

Judy Berman is a writer and editor in Brooklyn. She is a regular contributor to Salon's Broadsheet.

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