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Plan B: Sebelius Overrules FDA, Nixes Sale Without ID

Emergency Contraceptive Pill Stays Prescription Only for Under-17 Teens

Plan B Fact and Fiction

Plan B should be taken within 72 hours (three days) of unprotected intercourse. When taken within 72 hours, it decreases the chance of getting pregnant by 89% -- from 8% without Plan B to 1% with Plan B.

Plan B is even more effective when taken within 24 hours. Effectiveness decreases the longer a woman waits to take it.

Plan B is not an abortion pill. It contains levonorgestrel, a synthetic version of the hormone progestin. The abortion pill RU-486 contains a completely different drug.

Plan B works mainly by preventing release of eggs from a woman's ovary, although it may also prevent sperm from fertilizing the egg. But if a fertilized egg already has been implanted, the pregnancy continues normally even if a woman takes Plan B.

Plan B may cause side effects. The most common side effect is nausea, which occurs in about a quarter of women after taking Plan B. Other side effects may include abdominal pain, fatigue, headache, and heavy menstrual bleeding.

An older version of Plan B required a woman to take two pills 12 hours apart. The current Plan B One-Step formulation is a single pill taken only once, as soon as possible after unprotected intercourse but no longer than 72 hours later.

Plan B isn't the only emergency contraceptive. Ella, from HRA Pharma, is a different medication that prevents pregnancy when taken up to five days after intercourse. Ella is available only by prescription; HRA has not sought over-the-counter approval from FDA.

And contrary to the fears of some, women and teens with access to Plan B or Ella do not use the drugs as a regular contraceptive, Yale’s Stanwood says. And teens who can get these drugs do not have sex more than teens who can't get them, she says.

"Luckily we don't need to have these fears," Stanwood says. "There is this urban legend women will abandon regular birth control, and we have studies to show that is not the case. Women with Plan B do not abandon plan A or take more risks. It's like giving them a fire extinguisher -- it doesn't make them start more fires."

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