WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration today announced that it approved the controversial contraceptive commonly know as the “pull-out method” for over-the-counter sales for women and men 17 or older.
The Obama administration had been waging a legal battle to preserve restricted access to the pull-out method—also known as withdrawal or coitus interruptus—when a federal judge ruled to back the FDA’s approval the emergency birth-control method for wider use.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius—who in 2011 blocked the FDA’s attempt to lift all age restrictions for purchasing the morning-after pill—called the decision “as risky as the withdrawal method itself.”
“It’s my opinion that the decision to approve the withdrawal method will cause a huge mess,” read a statement issued by Sebelius. “The medical research supporting this alternative form of birth control is inconsistent at best.”
Researchers compiling surveys from more than 2,000 women ages 15 to 24 found 31 percent had used the pull-out method in the last two years. Among those women, 21 percent reported having an unintended pregnancy. In contrast, 13 percent of women who only used other forms of birth control became pregnant unintentionally.
In spite of the risks, women’s health advocates say that the pull-out method provides an alternative to alternative forms of birth control like intrauterine devices (IUDs), the Depo-Provera hormone shot, the patch, or the ring.
“You can never really have enough options when it comes to preventing unwanted pregnancy,” said sex researcher Rachel K. Jones, who was showered with criticism for her 2009 report that claimed the pull-out method was nearly as effective as condoms in preventing pregnancy.
“What makes withdrawal a noteworthy alternative to traditional birth control methods is that it places the onus on the man to be responsible,” added Jones.
“Over-the-counter access to emergency contraceptive products has the potential to further decrease the rate of unintended pregnancies in the United States,” said Center for Drug Evaluation and Research director Dr. Janet Woodcock.
Woodcock added that, counter to its recent decision to lift all age restrictions for Plan B, the FDA has no plans to alter the age requirements for the pull-out method.
“Asking young teenagers to remember to wear a condom is one thing,” said Woodcock, “but asking them to exercise the kind of self control it takes to use the pull-out method would be disastrous.”