The Obama administration announced Tuesday that pharmacies may now sell the emergency contraceptive Plan B over the counter to girls as young as 15 years old. (Read the full story by Zachary Goldfarb and me here.)
The overall age regulation could become moot within days: A federal judge ruled last month that the Food and Drug Administration needs to make emergency contraceptives available over the counter with no age restrictions.
But if the Obama administration appeals that ruling (they have until May 5 to do so), then the age 15-and-over rule may stand. The FDA is quite clear that a 15-year-old would need to verify her age in purchasing the product, which raises a logistical question: How do 15-year-olds prove their age?
Most age-regulated products, such as tobacco and alcohol, are aimed at adult Americans who are slightly older and would typically have drivers' licenses for identification. But most states do not allow people to obtain drivers' licenses until they are 16. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety maps the state laws here:
A 15-year-old might have easier access to a learner's permit for identification, although 16 states limit learning permits to teenagers who are older than 15.
FDA spokeswoman Stephanie Yao said in an interview that other forms of identification would also be acceptable for obtaining the contraceptive. "A 15-year-old can use an alternative form of ID to verify their age, for example, a passport or birth certificate," Yao said. "If a 15-year-old is unable to verify their age, they will not be able to purchase Plan B One-Step."
This could entail some level of parental involvement. According to the State Department, minors under age 16 who wish to get a passport must appear at the passport agency with "both parents (or guardians)." At least one parent must bring a "notarized statement of consent," allowing the minor to move forward in the passport process.
The birth certificate is another option. If that ID isn't already available to the minor, each state has separate rules for getting a copy of the document. They typically require writing to a state's department of statistics, paying a fee between $10 to $20 and then providing a signature.
How did the FDA come up with the age 15 cut-off? The drug's manufacturer, Teva Pharmaceuticals, applied for approval to sell the emergency contraceptive to women and girls 15 and older. The FDA then signed off on that application.