Morning-after pill's over-the-counter bottom line

Plan B, also known as the 'morning after' pill

KAI RYSSDAL: It'll be over the counter. But behind the counter. The FDA announced today it's approved Plan B. The morning after pill, in the vernacular. Women 18 and over can now buy it without a prescription. The fight over Plan B has been long and political. But the effect could be economic.

Plan B is the trademark name of the medicine known as the morning-after pill. Barr Pharmaceuticals makes about $30 million a year from the sale of the drug. And the decision to sell it over the counter is controversial, to be understated about it. The flight that led up to today's decision has dragged on for three years. So, to find out what happens next, we've called Susan Dudley. She's the director of policy research for the National Research Center for Women and Families in Washington.

Susan Dudley, welcome to the program.

SUSAN DUDLEY: Thank you. Glad to be here.

RYSSDAL: Plan B has been available over-the-counter overseas for quite some time. Is there anything we can learn from that?

DUDLEY: I think that there are very good statistics from France and from some other places that indicate that, for one thing, there is no increase in promiscuity as has been hypothesized to happen in the United States. I think the pregnancy rates do go down. I think that, in general, the experience has been very good in places where this has already been accepted.

RYSSDAL: Your group hopes, and I guess it's logical to assume, that there will be fewer unwanted pregnancies in this country as a result of today's decision. Do we know how many there are now?

DUDLEY: Yes. The statistics that we have indicate that about 3 million pregnancies each year are unintended pregnancies. And about half of that 3 million end in abortion.

RYSSDAL: And how many, then, do you think might not happen because of Plan B?

DUDLEY: I think that by limiting access to women who are under 18 we're going to miss one of the populations that's in need of these medications. We do know that about 19 percent of abortions in the United States involve teenagers.

RYSSDAL: Can you imagine any kind of impact on the larger reproductive industry in this country — everything from abortion providers and women's health clinics to regular birth-control sales?

DUDLEY: I think that it probably wouldn't have any impact on regular birth-control sales. This is a back up. It's not a primary birth-control method. In terms of abortions, I think the expectation is that abortion rates will continue to go down.

RYSSDAL: Any idea on how much it might cost over the counter? And do you think that might be a barrier to access?

DUDLEY: I don't know the over-the-counter cost. I think that our real problem in terms of barrier to access is likely to be for poor women for whom birth control is a difficult issue under all circumstances. We have a universal problem with family planning funds in the United States. And I think that how this plays out is going to depend partly on company policies. And it's going to depend, probably even moreso, on government policies with regard to family planning funds, which are notoriously underfunded programs in the United States.

RYSSDAL: There are a lot of things that happen when you have a baby. Whether they're planned or not planned. Many, many things that happen are very expensive. Health care. Child care. Education. How do you think today's decision might affect those kinds of things down the line.

DUDLEY: Well, I think, certainly that when people are able to plan their families, then people are better able to provide for their families to the best of their abilities. I think that there can be few things as disruptive to family security than to have to welcome an unplanned and ill-afforded child into the family.

RYSSDAL: Susan Dudley is the director of policy research at the National Research Center for Women and Families in Washington. Ms. Dudley, thanks for your time.

DUDLEY: Thank you.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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