STATE POLICIES IN BRIEF As of
AUGUST 1, 2009
BACKGROUND: Emergency contraception—a concentrated dose of the hormone found in many regular birth control
pills—can prevent pregnancy when taken shortly after unprotected intercourse; it is most effective when taken within 72
hours. Until recently, Plan B, the only Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved product for emergency
contraception on the U.S. market, was available only by prescription. On August 24, 2006, the FDA approved Plan B as
an over-the-counter medication for those aged 18 and older and for 17 year olds on April 22, 2009. It remains a
prescription-only drug for other minors.
Since the late 1990s, state legislatures have taken different paths to expand access to emergency contraception. First, some
states have mandated emergency contraception–related services for women who have been sexually assaulted. Second,
some states permitted a woman to obtain the medication without having to obtain a physician’s prescription; with the
FDA’s decision, these measures will now apply only to minors. Third, one state has limited pharmacists’ ability to refuse
to dispense emergency contraception on moral or ethical grounds. Finally, in some states, regulations discourage
pharmacists from refusing to fill prescriptions for contraceptives, with one state having gone so far as to require
pharmacies that stock contraceptives to dispense all contraceptive methods. At the same time, other states have attempted
to restrict access by excluding emergency contraception from state Medicaid family planning eligibility expansions or
contraceptive coverage mandates, or by allowing pharmacists and potentially some pharmacies, to refuse to provide
contraceptive services (see Refusing to Provide Medical Services).
17 states and the District of Columbia require hospital emergency rooms to provide emergency contraception–
related services to sexual assault victims.