The two-pill version of the morning-after pill must be immediately available over-the-counter without age restrictions, a federal appeals court has ruled today. However, the court also upheld a “stay” on the one-pill version of emergency contraception (called Plan B One-Step), essentially agreeing with the Obama administration that its use for young teens needs further review.
In response to today’s decision, the president for the Center of Reproductive Rights said in a statement, “After more than a decade of politically motivated delays, women will no longer have to endure intrusive, onerous and medically unnecessary restrictions to get emergency contraception.”
If taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, emergency contraception is almost 90 percent effective in preventing a pregnancy. Therefore, advocates have been fighting to get the pill available without age restrictions, because requiring teens 16 and younger to get a doctor’s prescription for the contraceptive wastes precious time. (Additionally, the age restriction privileges teens that have identification listing their age over those that do not.)
Today’s victory is just the latest in a long back and forth between the Food & Drug Administration and the government to make EC accessible to all women. In late April, the FDA lowered the purchasing age of EC without a prescription from age 17 to age 15 and made it available on shelves instead of behind-the-counter. That decision had been prompted by a federal judge striking down the age limit earlier that month, in which he admonished the Plan B back-and-forth as “politically motivated” and “scientifically unjustified.” Yet on May 1, the Justice Department announced it would appeal the federal court’s decision with the support of President Obama. Boooo.
This drama has been going on for years: the FDA recommended in 2011 that the morning-after pill — which is essentially a large dose of the hormones in birth control pills — is safe for women of all ages without a prescription. Despite all that, the Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius overruled the FDA’s recommendation, citing concern for its use by young teens.
Given the past history, today’s decision won’t be the end of morning-after pill shenanigans, I’m sure. Stay tuned for more.
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[Photo of woman taking a pill via Shutterstock]