By Susan F. Wood and Kirsten Moore

Recently, new leadership at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took a seemingly small but vitally important step toward restoring scientific integrity at the agency. The FDA notified the manufacturer of Plan B emergency contraception that it could change the age at which consumers can buy the product without a prescription from age 18 to age 17. This is good news for women, and good news for science. This change comes in response to a Federal District court ruling that, for the first time ever, found the FDA guilty of violating the scientific integrity of the drug approval process.

Despite the many highly effective birth control options women and their partners have to choose from, none is 100 percent perfect. And sometimes, mistakes happen -- a condom breaks, a diaphragm slips, a woman forgets to take her pill. Or she has sex when she didn't plan to -- or is raped. Each year, there are about 3 million unintended pregnancies in the United States, including approximately 1 million teen pregnancies. Being able to use backup birth control in time to prevent pregnancy can help a woman take control of a frustrating or even scary situation.

Plan B is a safe, effective back-up birth control method that can prevent pregnancy after unprotected intercourse, or IF contraception fails. Plan B does not cause an abortion, and it will not work if a woman is already pregnant. Plan B is more effective the sooner it is taken (within hours) which is why so many public health officials -- pediatricians, pharmacists, nurses and scientists at the FDA -- have long advocated that it be made available without a prescription. It is one more tool in our toolbox to prevent an unintended pregnancy.