WASHINGTON – An emergency contraception drug that is awaiting a decision from the Food and Drug Administration on over-the-counter availability in the United States won approval yesterday for such nonprescription access from Canadian regulatory officials.

The head of Barr Pharmaceuticals, makers of the drug called Plan B, said, “Canada now becomes the 34th country that enables women to have more timely access to emergency contraception without a prescription.”

Plan B, an FDA-approved back-up birth control measure that prevents pregnancy in most cases if taken up to 72 hours after unprotected sex, has been the subject of much debate and political wrangling in the United States.

Although the FDA faced a January deadline on whether to allow over-the-counter access of the drug to women 16 and older, the agency has issued no decision, leading to a lawsuit by a women’s health group and opposition to President Bush’s nominee to head the FDA, acting commission Lester M. Crawford.

Many religious conservatives believe that easy access to Plan B, a concentrated dose of birth control drugs, will lead to an increase in risky sexual activity by young women and thus more sexually transmitted diseases. Recently, some pharmacists have refused to fill prescriptions for the drug.

But proponents say easier availability will cut down on the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions.

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