Restricted access to emergency contraception for minors has been supported by President George W. Bush on Monday while drug regulators weigh wider access to the "morning-after" pill.
Bush's statement on this politically charged issue, has delayed a Senate confirmation vote on his nominee Andrew von Eschenbach to head the U.S Food and Drug Administration.
Von Eschenbach, as acting FDA commissioner has supported nonprescription emergency contraception sales for adults which earned him the opposition of some conservatives. Bush said, "I believe that Plan B ought to require a prescription for minors. That's what I believe."
Democrats who assert that the decision on Plan B has been delayed for political reasons has held up Von Eschenbach's nomination to the permanent job of commissioner up for months.
According to Von Eschenbach Plan B could be used safely and effectively for women 18 and older provided younger people could not buy it without a doctor's note.
Plan B was approved as a prescription drug in 1999. It is a set of two high-dose hormone pills which can prevent pregnancy provided it is taken within 72 hours of sexual intercourse.
Supporters of the wide access to the drug include the American Medical Association and Planned Parenthood who say that easing access to the drug would lead to fewer abortions, but opponents argue it will spur promiscuity. Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards said, "If the president's comments are an indication that they're final going to move on this, this would be great progress."
Von Eschenbach and two previous commissioners said that they were not directed by the White House on the issue. However the Family Research Council and other conservative groups which usually support Bush are opposing the nomination because von Eschenbach is moving ahead on Plan B, as well as continuing to allow the abortion pill RU-486 to remain on the market.
The group's vice president for government affairs, Tom McClusky, said, "Dr. von Eschenbach has shown a history of ignoring any concern for women's health in exchange for political expediency."
The FDA said that Plan B mainly worked by blocking the release of an egg from an ovary. The drug may also prevent the union of an egg and sperm. However RU-486 works by blocking a hormone which keeps a fertilized egg implanted in the uterus.