Germany's upper house of parliament has given the final green light for the "morning-after" pill to be sold over the counter. The move is a contentious one in the country.
Friday's approval by the Bundesrat means the "morning-after" pill will be available without prescription in German pharmacies from the middle of March this year.
The upper house did, however, recommend banning sales of the pill through mail-order companies to ensure that those obtaining the medication received qualified advice and were able to take it fast enough for it to be effective.
Health experts Hilde Mattheis and Mechthild Rawert from the Social Democrats hailed the move to make the pill more readily available, saying that "women in Germany can at last decide themselves with regard to their reproductive and sexual rights."
However, the Catholic German Bishops' Conference voiced misgivings at the decision.
"Over-the-counter access to this medication raises grave concerns," spokesman Matthias Kopp told AFP news agency.
Two years ago, the Conference moved away from its complete opposition to the prescription of the "morning-after" pill, allowing it in the case of women who had been raped. However, it has always been against making it freely available.
Some politicians have also opposed de-restricting the "morning-after" pill on the grounds that the treatment can have some side effects.
Both of the "morning-after" medications that will now be available without prescription in Germany suppress or delay ovulation, thus preventing fertilization after unprotected sex. The pills become less effective the longer the delay is between intercourse and taking them.
The Federal Union of German Associations of Pharmacists (ABDA) said the pill would be sold over the counter in German pharmacies from March 15, 2015, adding that pharmacy staff would give customers comprehensive and discreet advice on taking the medication.
Up to the age of 20, the pill will be paid for by womens' health insurance, provided they have a prescription. Otherwise, the pill will cost between 16 and 18 euros ($17.40 and $19.50).
tj/gsw (Reuters, AFP)