Victory! Obama Administration Backs Off The Morning-After Pill

Ending a years-long losing battle against making the morning-after pill accessible to all, the Obama administration has finally conceded to the wisdom of the masses and will stop fighting against emergency contraception.

Last month, following a federal court decision, the FDA lowered the purchasing age of the morning-after pill to 15 and put it on shelves instead of behind-the-counter. Shortly thereafter, the Justice Department announced it would appeal the court’s decision over a concern that EC hadn’t been adequately tested on younger women. And then earlier this month, a federal appeals court ruled that the two-pill version of EC must be available immediately over-the-counter without age restrictions (while holding a “stay” on the one-pill version of EC, Plan B One-Step). Following that move, the Obama administration has given up its resistance and is dropping their appeal.

This means women and teens will be able to purchase two-pill EC in a drugstore without a prescription soon, and the one-pill EC pending the FDA’s approval of such an arrangement for Plan B One-Step. The FDA said yesterday that it asked Plan B One-Step’s manufacturers to submit an application to make it available OTC, which it intends to approve.

Increased access to emergency contraception will have untold positive effects on preventing unwanted pregnancy, as it should be taken 120 hours after unprotected sex, but is more effective the sooner it is taken. If taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, EC is almost 90 percent more effective.

Yet politicians under the thumb of the Religious Right have been squabbling over EC accessibility for years, publicly referring to the it as “abortive pills” in a shady attempt to conflate them with the RU-486 abortion pill in people’s minds. (The morning-after pill does not cause an abortion; it actually prevents pregnancy from occurring.) Making EC available OTC also circumvents the problem many women face when they are refused it by a pharmacist who claims that dispensing the medication is against his or her “conscience.” Now pharmacists don’t need to personally dispense the morning-after pill and anyone can access it when they need it, rather than having to find another pharmacy.

In a statement released last night, Planned Parenthood Federation of America president Cecile Richards hailed the Obama administration’s decision to back off:

“This is a huge breakthrough for access to birth control and a historic moment for women’s health and equity. The FDA’s decision will make emergency contraception available on store shelves, just like condoms, and women of all ages will be able to get it quickly in order to prevent unintended pregnancy.”

[New York Times]
[Washington Post]

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[Image of woman in a pharmacy via Shutterstock]