The Obama administration took a surprising step against women’s reproductive rights on Wednesday. An appeal on behalf of the Department of Justice has been filed in response to a measure that would make Plan B, or the “morning after pill,” available over the counter to girls 15 years of age and older.
U.S. district judge Edward R. Korman, who was appointed to his seat in 1985 by President Ronald Reagan, told the Food and Drug Administration back on April 5th that they had 30 days to make the contraceptive more accessible. “These emergency contraceptives would be among the safest drugs sold over the counter; the number of 11-year-olds using these drugs is likely to be minuscule,” Korman said. “The FDA permits drugs that it has found to be unsafe for the pediatric population to be sold over the counter subject only to labeling restrictions, and its point-of-sale restriction on this safe drug is likewise inconsistent with its policy and the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act as it has been construed.”
Currently, teenagers under the age of 17 can only obtain Plan B and its generic equivalents by prescription from a doctor. Past age 17, women must request the contraceptive from the pharmacist and provide proper identification. The purchase of male contraceptives does not entail an age restriction, nor require identification to purchase.
According to a new study, over two-thirds of women surveyed would like to see birth control made available over the counter. Studies also find that access to birth control would decrease both unintended pregnancies and abortion rates.
Some anxiety over making Plan B over-the-counter stems from the potential health risks, although the Washington Post reports, “The FDA concluded in December 2011 that the pill is safe for over-the-counter use among women of all ages, without consulting a physician.” Other concerns are in connection to parents’ right to know what their children are doing, yet considering the percentage of teenagers who are sexually active, providing them options in dire circumstances is necessary. Making the contraceptive accessible won’t create a situation of excessive use, particularly because even the generic of Plan B can cost upward of $50—an expense a majority of teenagers just cannot afford.
President Obama hasn’t yet provided a statement on this issue. However, during a press briefing on Wednesday, Press Secretary Jay Carney said, “The president, the White House did not weigh in on this decision and I have not had a discussion with the president about that issue. What I can say is, as you saw in the past when there was a decision that was more sweeping, Secretary Sebelius made a decision to modify that or change it based on her views about the inadequacy of the data available for younger girls and teens of reproductive age that the president supported. But this is a different decision and I haven’t got any presidential input for you on it.”
Women’s rights organizations are not pleased with this Department of Justice decision. “The federal court has made clear that these stalling tactics were based purely on politics, not science,” said Nancy Northrup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, “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.”
President of the National Organization for Women, Terry O’Neill, said, “President Obama should practice what he preaches,” calling this action a “step backwards for women’s health.”
Judge Korman critically stated, “the invocation of the adverse effect of Plan B on 11-year-olds is an excuse to deprive the overwhelmingly majority of women of their right to obtain contraceptives without unjustified and burdensome restrictions.”
The Justice Department’s appeal stated that Korman overstepped his authority and has deferred the decision until the claim and appeal are fully reviewed.
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak