Plan B goes over the counter today

By Anne Baker

The Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts will join other Planned Parenthood clinics across the nation today in offering free and discounted emergency contraception at four Planned Parenthood clinics across the state, including Boston.

The event is a part of “Free EC Day,” a celebration of the recent Federal Drug Administration’s decision to make Plan B emergency contraception (EC), available over the counter to women 18 years and older. The event will run from noon to 5 p.m. today at health centers in Boston, Somerville, Worcester and Springfield.

“We’re trying to encourage people to keep EC in their cabinets just in case,” said Leilani Bowie, communications manager for the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts.

The first 25 women 18 years or older with a valid ID to arrive at the Planned Parenthood at 1055 Commonwealth Ave. will receive one free EC pack of Plan B, and all visitors after that will receive a $10 discount.

The FDA approval process has taken more than two years. The Plan B manufacturer applied for the drug to be available over the counter in April 2003. It was approved for sale without a prescription in August 2006, drawing much support from proponents of the pill.

“I think it’s a good idea, but I don’t think they should ID people when they buy it,” said senior communications major Emily Hinkle. “They don’t put age restrictions on condoms.”

Emergency contraception is a method of preventing pregnancy in the event of unprotected sex or a failed contraceptive, like a torn condom. The drug is essentially a high-dose version of the common birth control pill. A woman is to take the first of two pills within 72 hours of unprotected sex. The second is taken 12 hours after the first. The pill is more effective the sooner it is taken.

Critics have long said that prescription emergency contraception is an oxymoron as it simply takes too much time to make an appointment, see a doctor and get a prescription. If taken correctly and within three days, a woman can reduce her chances of getting pregnant by 89 percent.

“I think it’s good because some people need it more quickly,” said sophomore psychology major Molly Kavanaugh.

Alaska, California, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Washington and Vermont have already allowed the sale of Plan B from pharmacies without a prescription, regardless of age.

The pill has long been controversial, drawing criticism from some conservative groups and others who say offering medication alternatives will increase sexual promiscuity and lead to more pregnancies rather than prevent them.

“I don’t think it should be available to everyone,” Kavanaugh said. “The restrictions are good.”

Although only women 18 years and older can get the pill from clinics, women under 17 years old can get a prescription for the drug by filling out an online request form at the Planned Parenthood website for a nurse to review. They can also visit a clinic, where an appointment should take less than half an hour.

Some still may question how well young women will adapt to the drug, but Bowie remains unconcerned.

“I think it being over the counter will make them more comfortable,” she said.

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