Wednesday, April 23, 2014
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON - The Obama administration on Wednesday appealed a federal judge's order to lift all age limits on who can buy morning-after birth control pills without a prescription.
The decision came a day after the Food and Drug Administration had lowered the age that people can buy the Plan B One-Step morning-after pill without a prescription to 15 - younger than the former limit of 17 - and decided that the pill could be sold on drugstore shelves near the condoms, instead of locked behind pharmacy counters.
With the appeal, the government is making clear that it's willing to ease access to emergency contraception only a certain amount - not nearly as broadly as doctors' groups and contraception advocates have urged.
The order by U.S. District Judge Edward Korman of New York would allow girls and women of any age to buy not only Plan B but its cheaper generic competition as easily as they can buy aspirin. Korman gave the FDA 30 days to comply, and the Monday deadline was approaching fast.
In Wednesday's filing, the Justice Department said Korman exceeded his authority and that his decision should be suspended while that appeal is under way, meaning only Plan B One-Step would appear on drugstore shelves until the case is finally settled.
"We are deeply disappointed that just days after President Obama proclaimed his commitment to women's reproductive rights, his administration has decided once again to deprive women of their right to obtain emergency contraception without unjustified and burdensome restrictions," said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which filed the lawsuit that prompted Korman's ruling.
The Justice Department argued to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that Korman should have ordered the FDA to reconsider its options for regulating emergency contraception, rather than take matters into his own hands. The FDA had been poised to lift all age limits and let Plan B sell over the counter in late 2011, when Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled her own scientists.
Sebelius said some girls as young as 11 were physically capable of bearing children but shouldn't be able to buy the pregnancy-preventing pill on their own.
Sebelius' move was unprecedented, and Korman had blasted it as election-year politics - meaning he was overruling not just a government agency but a Cabinet secretary.
Many liberal critics of the administration say easing restrictions on the drug would help lower the teen pregnancy rate.
But social conservatives were outraged by the FDA's move to lower the age limits for Plan B - as well as the possibility that Korman's ruling might take effect and lift age restrictions altogether.
"This decision undermines the right of parents to make important health decisions for their young daughters," said Anna Higgins of the Family Research Council.