Broadcast: December 31, 2003
This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English Health Report.
An advisory committee to the United States Food and Drug Administration has voted to approve selling an emergency birth control drug without a doctor’s order.
The drug can reduce the chance of pregnancy by eighty-nine percent if used within seventy-two hours of unprotected sexual activity. It is known as Plan B and is commonly called “the morning-after pill.” That is because it must be used as soon as possible after unprotected sex.
The drug is really two pills that contain the hormone progestin. Women take the pills twelve hours apart. Women should start taking them within twenty-four hours after unprotected sex to be most effective.
The progestin delays or blocks the release of an egg inside a woman’s body or prevents fertilization of the egg. This prevents her from becoming pregnant. The drug may also prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. Some religious leaders oppose use of the drug because they say this is the same as having an operation to end a pregnancy.
The drug is considered medically safe. It has been approved in about one-hundred countries. It is sold without a doctor’s order in thirty-three countries. Plan B is approved in the United States, but a woman must have a doctor’s order to get the drug.
Birth control experts told the F-D-A committee that more than two-million American women have used the drug since it was approved in nineteen-ninety-nine. They say the drug has already prevented about fifty-two-thousand abortion operations that end pregnancies. And they expect that making the drug easier to get will greatly reduce the number of abortions in the future. They also said it is wrong to withhold a safe and effective drug from women who need to take it as soon as possible after unprotected sex to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
Those who oppose sale of the drug in drugstores said they feared it would lead to increased sexual activity among young people. They said this would increase the number of young women who suffer from sexually spread diseases and emotional problems.
The F-D-A committee listened to all the experts, then voted twenty-three to four to approve sale of the drug in drugstores. The Food and Drug Adminstration usually follows the committee’s advice.
This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Nancy Steinbach. This is Steve Ember.