CHICAGO - Gov. Rod Blagojevich said Wednesday he'll find a way to make emergency contraception available in Illinois without a prescription, prompting criticism from his opponent in the upcoming election.
Blagojevich urged the Food and Drug Administration to approve over-the-counter sales of the morning-after pill in a letter sent to the agency Wednesday. If the FDA fails to act, he pledged to introduce legislation in the fall that would allow Illinois pharmacies to dispense it.
And if that doesn't work, Blagojevich said he might issue an executive order that would circumvent legislative approval.
"The evidence is clear and overwhelming that making Plan B available over-the-counter is the right thing to do," he said in the two-page letter.
Republican Judy Baar Topinka says Blagojevich's stance shows his willingness to defy federal officials and local lawmakers.
Topinka said she supports making the pill available without a prescription, but only for people of a certain age - probably 16 or 18. Her concern with Blagojevich, she said, is the possibility of unilateral action by the governor without consent from lawmakers.
"Sorry, he wasn't elected king, he's got to go back to the Legislature," the three-term state treasurer said.
Blagojevich's action involves an important health issue, but it also has political implications.
Topinka, who supports abortion rights and is a moderate on many other social issues, could siphon away votes that might otherwise go to the Democratic incumbent. Blagojevich's stance on Plan B, like his support for stem-cell research, could shore up his support with those voters.
Nine states already allow women to get Plan B without a doctor's prescription.
Blagojevich said he wants to introduce a bill during the fall legislative session that would make Illinois the 10th state to do so. The governor's staff is also looking at alternatives to legislation, Blagojevich spokeswoman Rebecca Rausch said.
"If we're not successful in the General Assembly, we'll of course look at our other options. One potential option could be an executive order," she said. "We want to make this drug that is safe and effective more available to women."
Blagojevich already has used his executive power to require pharmacists to fill emergency contraception prescriptions if they dispense birth control. He's also spent millions of dollars on stem cell research despite repeated objections from state legislators.
Lawmakers on the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules have the authority to strike down executive orders and rule changes entered by Blagojevich.
State Rep. Tom Holbrook, D-Belleville, sits on the committee and said Wednesday that it serves as "the last check-and-balance" when the governor chooses to avoid the Legislature.
"I am more than willing to work with the governor on most issues, but he does need to understand that we (lawmakers) have our domain and he has his. That's why there are three branches of government," Holbrook said.
For three years, the maker of the Plan B morning-after pill has sought permission to sell it over the counter.
Last week, the FDA told Barr Pharmaceuticals Inc. it would consider nonprescription sales of the pill only for women 18 and older, but the agency wanted to know how Barr would ensure pharmacies enforced that age restriction.
The two sides met Tuesday, and Barr said it would amend its application within two weeks.