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DURHAM, N.C. -- The approval of Plan B, the emergency contraceptive, for over-the-counter sales to women age 18 and older by the Food and Drug Administration will remove key obstacles that have prevented many women from using it, according to an obstetrician/gynecologist at Duke University Medical Center.

"One of the biggest challenges with Plan B has been giving women access to it," said Anne D. Lyerly, M.D., assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology. "The FDA's decision may increase access as women 18 and over will no longer need a prescription, and it circumvents the problem with providers and pharmacists who have moral issues with the drug."

Lyerly is vice chair of the ethics committee for the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. This committee is developing a statement addressing conscientious objection in reproductive health care. These objections have gained attention with reports of pharmacists and physicians refusing to provide Plan B to women who requested it.

"This is a great victory in a long fight, and there is overwhelming evidence that this medication is safe," she said. "I'm pleased that the persistence of advocacy for Plan B has finally led to its being widely available."

Plan B contains a higher concentration of ingredients found in regular birth-control pills. It is a two-pill treatment, and if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, it can substantially lower the likelihood of pregnancy.