TUESDAY, March 24, 2009 (Health.com) – A US court ruling this week may ease restrictions on the over-the-counter sale of morning-after pills, sold as Plan B, to women under 18.

A federal judge, U.S. District Judge Edward Korma, told the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to make the product available to 17-year-olds within 30 days, according to The Washington Post, and to reconsider whether it should be available without any age restriction at all.

Plan B, which contains the same synthetic hormones found in birth control pills but in a higher dose, can prevent pregnancy from occurring if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex. It may work up to five days after sex, but it works best when taken within 24 hours.

Plan B was FDA-approved in 2006 to be sold without a prescription as emergency contraception. It's available at most pharmacies, but for the moment, only to women over the age of 18. "Just ask the pharmacist and he'll give it to you," says Hilda Hutcherson, MD, a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University Medical Center.

Since Plan B is more effective the sooner you take it, some health-care providers recommend having it on hand "just in case."

It should not be used as primary birth control, however. "Don't think, 'I'm only having sex four times a month, so I'll just take the morning-after pill every time,'" says Dr. Hutcherson. It's more expensive than other methods, may cause nausea, and will throw your cycles off. "Your body won't know what's going on," says Dr. Hutcherson.

Plan B is not the same as mifepristone, the abortion pill formerly known as RU-486. Mifepristone is available only with a prescription from your doctor; if taken, it can terminate an early pregnancy. If you take Plan B, on the other hand, and you're pregnant already, says Dr. Hutcherson, "You're gonna stay pregnant. Not gonna help you."


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