A federal court judge has ordered the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to lift controversial restrictions on the so-called morning-after pill, saying females of all ages should have unimpeded access to emergency birth control.
In a ruling released Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Edward Korman directed the FDA to make levonorgestrel-based contraceptives available over the counter, and without a prescription. The ruling overturns a 2011 decision by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius requiring that girls under age 17 obtain a prescription for the Plan B One-Step contraceptive or its equivalents
In his strongly worded ruling, Korman called Sebelius’ decision “politically motivated, scientifically unjustified and contrary to agency precedent.” No serious health risks have been associated with the drug’s use among adults and children, Korman wrote, and even the FDA acknowledged that the drug’s “safety and efficacy in the pediatric population have been established.”
The ruling comes in response to a lawsuit filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights, which argued that restrictions placed on the drug imposed unreasonable delays for women of all ages. While the drugs are available to women 17 and older without a prescription, the requirements created confusion and pharmacists kept them behind counters so that they were not available outside regular business hours.
“Today science has finally prevailed over politics,” Nancy Northrup, president and chief executive of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. “This landmark court decision has struck a huge blow to the deep-seated discrimination that has for too long denied women access to a full range of safe and effective birth control methods.”
Korman ordered that the drugs be made available without limits within 30 days.
Allison Price, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Justice, said the government was “reviewing the appellate options and expects to act promptly.”
Emergency contraception must be taken within five days of unprotected sex to be effective, and it will not work if a woman is already pregnant.
According to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, nearly half of all pregnancies that occur in the U.S. each year are unintended. The average age for first-time sex is 17, and roughly 750,000 pregnancies will occur among 15- to 19-year olds each year.
Return to Booster Shots blog.
Follow me on Twitter @montemorin