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Morning-after pill goes over the counter

– The government is moving the morning-after pill over the counter but only those 15 and older can buy it – an attempt to find middle ground just days before a court-imposed deadline to lift all age restrictions on the emergency contraceptive.

Today, Plan B One-Step is sold behind pharmacy counters, and buyers must prove they’re 17 or older to buy it without a prescription. Tuesday’s decision by the Food and Drug Administration lowers the age limit and will allow the pill to sit on drugstore shelves next to spermicides or other women’s health products and condoms – but anyone who wants to buy it must prove their age at the cash register.

Some contraceptive advocates called the move promising.

“This decision is a step in the right direction for increased access to a product that is a safe and effective method of preventing unintended pregnancies,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

But last month, U.S. District Judge Edward Korman of New York blasted the Obama administration for imposing the age-17 limit, saying it had let election-year politics trump science and was making it hard for women of any age to obtain the emergency contraception in time.

The women’s group that sued over the age limits said Tuesday’s action is not enough, and it will continue the court fight.

Lowering the age limit “may reduce delays for some young women but it does nothing to address the significant barriers that far too many women of all ages will still find if they arrive at the drugstore without identification,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

The FDA said the Plan B One-Step will be packaged with a product code that prompts the cashier to verify a customer’s age. Anyone who can’t provide such proof as a driver’s license, birth certificate or passport wouldn’t be allowed to complete the purchase.

Half the nation’s pregnancies every year are unintended, and doctors’ groups say more access to pills could cut those numbers. The pills contain higher doses of regular contraceptives, and if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, can cut the chances of pregnancy by up to 89 percent.

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