The Obama administration gave up their fight to keep age limits on sales of over-the-counter emergency contraception pill Plan B on Monday. This, effectively, means that women of all ages will soon be able to buy the Plan B "morning after" pill without an ID, something the FDA OK'd way back in 2011. This could mark the kind of quiet end to a years-long fight by the administration to keep age restrictions in place.
In 2011, the initial recommendation by the FDA to open up Plan B sales to everyone was, in an unprecedented move, overturned by Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services. She kept sales limited to those over the age of 17, which eventually led to a lawsuit, which resulted in U.S. District Judge Edward Korman's decision in favor of lifting restrictions on sales. That decision, way back in April, ordered the government to make emergency contraception available to everyone within a month. Obviously, that didn't happen, and it looked like the administration had a pretty deliberate strategy for fighting the ruling. First, the FDA approved sales of the drug to women 15 and over, which conveniently meant that the plaintiffs of the initial lawsuit (who were all over the age of 15) could now buy the pill. While there's no proven cause and effect here, the well-timed ruling seemed to weaken the case's ability to reach further on the current restrictions. Then, just before the order was to go into effect, the administration officially appealed. They also asked the judge to allow the restrictions to stay in place until the appeal was decided. Korman declined.
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The New York Times notes that the administration's decision to drop the case was quite possibly an effort to avoid making the issue even more high-profile than it already is, based on their chances for an appeal:
"The Justice Department appears to have concluded that it might lose its case with the appeals court and would have to decide whether to appeal to the Supreme Court. That would drastically elevate the debate over the politically delicate issue for Mr. Obama."
This is a big win for reproductive rights advocates, but it's far from the finale to the fight over emergency contraceptive access. Once Plan B does go on sale without a prescription, as the Associated Press notes, the debate could turn to making cheaper generic versions of the brand-name drug available without a prescription, too.
Via the Washington Post, here's the full letter from the Department of Justice:
- Politics & Government