HEALTH

Teenage birth control purchases restricted

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WASHINGTON (AP) - The nation's health secretary says young teenagers cannot buy the Plan B morning-after pill without a prescription - a surprise move overruling her own experts, who were preparing to let it be sold on drugstore shelves like condoms.

(Photo: Associated Press)

The pill can prevent pregnancy if taken soon enough after unprotected sex. Currently, only those 17 or older can buy Plan B One-Step without a prescription, if they show a pharmacist proof of age.

The Food and Drug Administration was preparing to lift that age limit and let the emergency contraceptive be sold over the counter to anyone.

But Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled the agency, saying she was concerned that very young girls couldn't properly understand how to use it without guidance from an adult.

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Many parents seem to disagree with Sebelius, preferring the government not dictate what they say are personal decisions.

"I'd rather them use Plan B than have a baby that's brought into the world without support," said Bridgett Hall, of Arlington.

"I think it's fine," said Alison Pion, of Bethesda. "I have a young daughter myself and I think it should be able to be on the shelves right next to condoms. I have no problem with that."

Doctors' and women's health groups have long argued that the pill is safe even for younger teens and that lifting the age restriction would increase access for everyone.

Already, health experts are weighing in. The former director of women's health for the Food and Drug Administration is slamming the secretary's decision.

"The decision is stunning. I cannot understand why Secretary Sebelius would reach in and overturn the FDA's decision to allow timely access for all those who need safe and effective emergency contraception."

The nearly decade-long over-the-counter push wound up in federal court, where a judge in 2009 ordered the Food and Drug Administration to consider lifting the age limit.

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