U.S. Ends Effort to Limit Access to 'Morning-After' Pill

TUESDAY June 11, 2013 -- The U.S. government has dropped its effort to block a court order that would make the morning-after contraceptive pill available over-the-counter to all women and girls.

After fighting for an age threshold on the nonprescription use of the Plan B One-Step pill for months, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said in a statement late Monday that it would heed the ruling of Judge Edward Korman, of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. The drug prevents conception if taken within 72 hours of having sexual intercourse.

The Obama administration appears to have concluded that it could lose its case, and would have to weigh whether to request that the Supreme Court hear any appeal, the New York Times reported.

Women's reproductive rights groups, which had sued the government to clear the way for broader distribution of the drug were happy with the decision, the Times reported, but they still wanted to see the details of how the change would be implemented.

"We will not rest in this fight until the morning-after pill is made available without delay and obstruction," said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, executive director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, which represented the plaintiffs in the case, the newspaper reported.

"This is a huge breakthrough for access to birth control and a historic moment for women's health and equity," Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards said in a news release. "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."

However, the decision is certain to anger abortion rights opponents, who oppose allowing young girls access to the drug without the consent or involvement of a parent or a doctor.

Korman first issued his order April 5, igniting a battle over whether young girls could gain access to emergency contraception without a prescription. Soon after, on April 30, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration lowered to 15 the age at which people could purchase the Plan B One-Step pill over-the-counter -- two years younger than the prior age limit of 17.

A day later, on May 1, the Obama Administration stepped in to appeal the Korman decision.

At the time of the FDA's move to lower the age limit, agency commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg said in a news release that, "research has shown that access to emergency contraceptive products has the potential to further decrease the rate of unintended pregnancies in the United States."

"The data reviewed by the agency demonstrated that women 15 years of age and older were able to understand how Plan B One-Step works, how to use it properly and that it does not prevent the transmission of a sexually transmitted disease," Hamburg said.

Plan B prevents implantation of a fertilized egg in a woman's uterus through the use of levonorgestrel, a synthetic form of the hormone progesterone used for decades in birth control pills. Plan B contains 1.5 milligrams of levonorgestrel, more than the pill contains. It is considered a form of birth control, not abortion.

Other brands of emergency contraception include Next Choice and Ella.

Planned Parenthood has long pushed for wider access to emergency contraception, with Richards calling it "an important step forward."

But conservative groups have objected to the move. In April, Janice Shaw Crouse, director of the Beverly LaHaye Institute, the think tank for the conservative women's group Concerned Women for America, called Korman's ruling "a political decision, made by those who stand to profit financially from an action that puts ideology ahead of the nation's girls and young women."

More information

There's more on emergency contraception at the World Health Organization.

Posted: June 2013


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