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Plan B highlights abortion debate

Despite the advice of its medical and scientific advisers, the Food and Drug Administration is refusing to approve an application to sell Plan B over the counter. NBC's Robert Bazell reports.

"Plan B" is actually two pills and a major focus of the culture wars. Taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, it prevents pregnancy. But some people, mostly political conservatives, think it should not be readily available, especially to teenagers.

"It's a morning after-type thing," says Joe Sheidler of the Pro-Life Action League, "And so they feel safe that they can be promiscuous and patch it up the next day."

Plan B is sold by prescription. The Food and Drug Administration's external and staff scientific advisors have said it should be sold over the counter. But the agency is refusing to allow that.

In a strong statement Monday, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology said the FDA is wrong and motivated by politics. The group launched a campaign urging doctors to give women prescriptions for the pills now.

"That they may use if necessary and to urge them to use it if one of those accidents happen," says Dr. Vivian Dickerson, president of ACOG.

There is another argument against Plan B, in addition to concerns about encouraging promiscuity. The Roman Catholic Church has long opposed many forms of contraception, and now other groups are joining that opposition with a focus on Plan B.

The argument is that Plan B prevents a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb. Dr. Charmaine Youst of the conservative Family Research Council says women should be told that is an abortion.

"When a drug is being presented to them only as a contraceptive device, when it does function sometimes to create an abortion," says Youst, "We find that to be very troubling."

But the gynecologists' group says that not only is that claim scientifically wrong, Plan B sold over the counter would actually reduce abortions.

"We estimate that if it is readily available it can prevent up to 50 percent of the abortions — pregnancy terminations — in this country," says Dickerson.

It is a dispute for which few people see any resolution soon.