The Obama administration has decided not to appeal a judge’s decision to make some forms of the so-called “morning-after” pill available over-the-counter to girls of any age.
The Justice Department’s decision came late last night in a letter to U.S. District Judge Edward Korman. Government lawyers initially said they would fight Korman’s ruling, despite President Barack Obama’s support for lowering restrictions on the drug.
The pill, sold under brand names like Plan B and Ella prevents a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus or causes an early abortion if implantation has already occurred. It is billed as “emergency” contraception.
According to the department’s letter to the judge, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has told the drug’s manufacturer to submit a new application with proposed labeling that would permit it to be sold “without a prescription and without age or point-of-sale prescriptions.” Once that’s done, the agency will approve the application “promptly.”
The drug is now available to girls as young as 17 without a prescription but is kept behind pharmacy counters. Pharmacists are supposed to check IDs before selling it.
Monday’s decision ends an odd fight, which pitted government agencies against each other and the president.
The conflicting rulings started in 2011, when Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius blocked the FDA’s recommendation to lift all age limits on the drug. At the time, she said although some girls as young as 11 could physically get pregnant, they shouldn’t be able to buy the drug without input from adults. Both the president and Sebelius also questioned whether regulators had enough data available to show the morning-after pill was safe and appropriate for younger girls.
But earlier this year, the president said he would support making the drug available without a prescription to girls as young as 15, echoing a revised recommendation issued by the FDA in May.
At the same time, the Justice Department began fighting Korman’s demand the government make the drug available over-the-counter to anyone who wanted it. Korman declined to delay his decision while the government took the case to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the lower court’s ruling last week.
While pro-abortion advocates claim the drug is an advance for women’s health and reproductive rights, opponents fear abusers will use it to hide evidence of illegal contact with minors or women forced into sex against their will.
NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue welcomed the government’s decision: “By making emergency contraception available to women of all ages, the FDA is taking an important step to reduce unintended pregnancies and put women in control of their futures.”
But the Family Research Council expressed its disappointment. “We’re very concerned and disappointed at the same time because what we see here is the government caving to political pressure instead of putting first the health and safety of girls [and] parental rights,” said Anna Higgins, director of the council’s Center for Human Dignity.