There’s been a lot of talk about the morning-after pill lately, particularly because it was recently approved to be sold without a prescription. So what’s all the hype about? POISE investigates the Plan B® controversy so you don’t have to!



   Approved in 1999 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Plan B®, a.k.a. the “morning-after” pill, is an emergency contraceptive pill that, until August 24, 2006, was available by prescription only. However, after three years of debate, the FDA announced that the pill would be available to women 18 and older through behind-the-counter inquiries at select licensed drug wholesalers and pharmacies in a number of states, including Alaska, California, Hawaii, Maine, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Washington.
   So what’s “emergency contraception?” According to, the official Website of Plan B®, it’s “an effective second chance at preventing an unplanned pregnancy…after [a women] has had unprotected sex.” This can include completely forgoing the use of contraceptives, using contraceptives that don’t work properly (a condom breaks, forgetting to take birth control), and, sadly, the possibility of sexual assault.
   Emergency contraception also implies that it is neither a regular form of birth control, nor a last resort for abortion. Plan B®  is a backup method of contraception to be used immediately after an unprotected sexual encounter occurs. It is meant to prevent pregnancy, and therefore does not have an adverse effect on women who are already pregnant.


  Much like oral contraceptives and other prescription-based birth control methods, Plan B® works to prevent pregnancies by using hormones, like levonorgestrel, to stop the fertilization process before it begins. Sperm are unable to attach to the uterus wall or unite with an egg, and eggs are unable to be released from the ovary.


   First, Plan B® has different ingredients than regular birth control methods. Although most oral forms of birth control contain levonorgestrel, Plan B® contains a significantly larger dose of this hormone than what’s found in a single birth control pill. Unlike birth control, Plan B® does not include estrogen, or other hormones common to oral contraceptives.
   Second, Plan B® was not intended to have the effectiveness as regular contraceptive devices. It does not protect against STDs, HPV, HIV, or other sexually transmitted ailments, nor will it prevent future unplanned pregnancies. It was not intended for frequent or regular use; Plan B® was intended solely as a backup form of emergency contraception.
   Lastly, Plan B® has a strict window of opportunity, meaning the longer you wait to take it, the less effective it will be. Plan B® must be taken within three days (72 hours) of engaging in unprotected sex to ensure the 89% affectivity.


   It’s important to know that the controversy isn’t over whether Plan B® is good or bad. Having an emergency contraception option is great. The controversy comes with the word emergency, and the implications that OTC sales could bring.
   For example, many fear that young women will misinterpret the implications of “emergency contraception,” causing them to have a relaxed attitude about unprotected sex. By having easy access to Plan B®, these women would develop a sense of irresponsibility, and an inability to deal with the consequences of their actions. Others think that this misinterpretation will lead to an increased rate of sexual activity among teens, even with the remaining prescription requirements for minors.
   Kelly Brown, a sophomore OU student, shares these opinions.
   “I think that having [Plan B®] over-the-counter is going to make sex even more casual than it is, which I think is bad because it gives girls a mentality that they don’t need to protect themselves. If young women don’t make guys wear condoms because they know they can easily get [Plan B®] the next morning, they’re putting themselves at risk for things other than just pregnancy – including STDs.”
   On the other hand, organization, such as Planned Parenthood, are confident that Plan B® users will take the time to understand what the pill is about before using it.
   Chris Matter, Director of Development at Planned Parenthood in Athens, thinks that having Plan B available over-the-counter is a wise idea.
   “The more access the better,” Matter said. “I hope that no one would misinterpret its uses, or misuse it - but pharmacists should give appropriate directions when someone purchases [Plan B®].”
   Supporters also argue that if young adults have access to Plan B® with regular forms of contraceptives, like condoms, without authoritative pressure, they are able to make smart choices from the start, while knowing that there are emergency options, should an emergency occur. Increased availability also will allow women to take preventative action quickly, without medical obstacles, such as waiting to schedule a doctor’s appointment.
   “I think having [Plan B®] available without a prescription is a good because it is a lot easier and more convenient than having to go to the doctor for it,” Gabrielle Meles, a sophomore at OU said. “Women might be able to avoid the moral dilemma of deciding whether or not to abort a pregnancy by having easier access to the pill. I also think it gives younger women, who might not want to tell their parents they’re having sex a safe option if something goes wrong.”
   Yet another issue that OTC Plan B® brings up is the contraceptive difference dilemma. If the FDA requires a prescription for birth control medication, and Plan B® is a drug with the same main ingredient but in a higher dose, it doesn’t make sense for Plan B® not to require a prescription. Without a prescription, multiple pills can be purchased together and could be misused or overused.            
   Moral ideologies aside, misusing and/or taking advantage of Plan B® is not smart. It’s a relatively new drug, so knowing whether excessive use or combinational use will harm your body is still under serious consideration. Whether it requires a prescription or not, you, as a young women, are free to make their own choices and opinions about taking Plan B®. The most important thing is that you have all the facts about the pill and are comfortable with the choices you make.     


If you are considering taking Plan B®, Hudson Health Center offers an information booklet about the pill. They also offer psychological counseling services if you need someone to talk to about a tough decision you have to make. Contact 740-593-1660 for the Hudson front desk.