A top federal health official rejected a Democratic accusation Thursday that politics were getting in the way of a decision on whether to permit sales of the morning-after pill without a prescription.

Andrew Von Eschenbach, the Food and Drug Administration's acting director, tried to reassure House members that the decision would be based on science, not politics. "That process will be carried out in the appropriate fashion," he said.

Von Eschenbach appeared before a House Appropriations subcommittee to go over the agency's budget. But much of the Democrats' questioning concerned the FDA's evaluation of the morning-after-pill, known as Plan B. They say the agency has had more than enough time to reach a decision.

"We know there is quite a bit of politics going on here," said Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif.

Supporters of over-the-counter sales say ready access to the pill could reduce unintended pregnancies and abortion, but some conservatives fear it would increase teen sex and promiscuity.

Von Eschenbach said he couldn't say when the agency might rule. He said the FDA was reviewing public comment on issues that it's never had to consider before, namely whether the same product can exist as both a prescription and over-the-counter drug.

The FDA rejected over-the-counter sales in May 2004, telling Barr Laboratories that there wasn't evidence that teens younger than 16 could safely use the drug without a doctor's guidance. Barr resubmitted its proposal but included age limits: Females 16 or older could buy it without a prescription, but younger teens would continue to need a doctor's note.

The FDA in August requested public comment on the proposal.

Dr. Steven Galson, director of FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, told the committee that the agency had received hundreds of public comments; a press aide, Susan Cruzan, said after the hearing that the number exceeded 10,000.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., told Von Eschenbach not to let ideology supersede public health.

A high dose of regular birth control, the morning-after-pill can lower the risk of pregnancy by up to 89 percent if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex. The sooner it's taken, the better it works.