Women can buy the morning-after pill without a prescription, the government declared Thursday, a major step that nevertheless failed to quell the politically charged debate over access to emergency contraception.
The manufacturer, lawmakers and other advocates said they will press the government to let minors purchase the pills over the counter.
Food and Drug Administration said women 18 and older - and men purchasing for their partners - may buy the Plan B pills without a doctor's note, but only from pharmacies.
Girls 17 and younger still will need a prescription to buy the pills, the FDA told manufacturer Barr Pharmaceuticals Inc., in ruling on an application filed in 2003.
The compromise decision is a partial victory for women's advocacy and medical groups, which say easier access could halve the nation's 3 million annual unplanned pregnancies.
Groups like the coalition for life disagree with the FDA's ruling.
"Now we have an approved pill which has 40 times the dosage of the birth control pill and you don't need a prescription for it and you do need a prescription for birth control," Shawn Carney with the Brazos Valley Coalition for Life said. "It doesn't make any sense."
"Being able to go to a store and get it at anytime is something that will definitely benefit all women but especially people here in the Brazos Valley," Abby Johnson with Planned Parenthood said.
Plan B contains a concentrated dose of the same drug found in many regular birth-control pills. Planned Parenthood estimates 41 other countries, including Australia and Canada, already let women buy emergency contraception without a prescription.
If a woman takes Plan B within 72 hours of unprotected sex, she can lower the risk of pregnancy by up to 89 percent. Plan B is different from the abortion pill: If a woman already is pregnant, Plan B has no effect.
The earlier the pills are taken, the more effective they are. Allowing non-prescription sales means women won't have to run themselves ragged to get a prescription, something especially difficult on weekends and holidays, advocates said.