WASHINGTON - The morning-after pill is finally going over-the-counter.
The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday approved unrestricted sales of Plan B One-Step, lifting all age limits on the emergency contraceptive.
The move came a week after the Obama administration ended months of back-and-forth legal battles by promising a federal judge it would take that step. Women's health advocates had pushed for easier access to next-day birth control for more than a decade.
"Over-the-counter access to emergency contraceptive products has the potential to further decrease the rate of unintended pregnancies in the United States," FDA drug chief Dr. Janet Woodcock said in a statement announcing the approval.
It wasn't clear how quickly Plan B One-Step would move from behind pharmacy counters to sit on drugstore shelves. Until now, customers could buy that morning-after pill and competing generic versions without a prescription only if they proved to a pharmacist that they were 17 or older. FDA said the product will have to be repackaged to reflect the change. FDA has not lifted age limits on competing generics.
The morning-after pill contains a higher dose of the hormone in regular birth control pills. Taking it within 72 hours of rape, condom failure or just forgetting regular contraception can cut the chances of pregnancy by up to 89 percent, but it works best within the first 24 hours. If a girl or woman already is pregnant, the pill, which prevents ovulation or fertilization of an egg, has no effect.