In a monumentous decision, a federal judge has ordered the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to remove longstanding age and point of sale restrictions that prevent women from easy access to emergency contraception. The FDA has 30 days to comply. It's about damn time.
As it stands, emergency contraceptives are only available to women 17 and older without a prescription; younger teenagers need a prescription from a doctor. But even older women can have a hard time getting their hands on the morning after pill, since it's only for sale at health clinics and pharmacies — and because some pharmacists take it upon themselves to (very illegally) play moral police.
Multiple studies have shown that all kinds of women — old and young, married and single, from all ethnicities and education levels — depend on emergency contraception to prevent unintended pregnancy. Even pediatricians think teens should have unrestricted access to Plan B. Near the end of 2011, it looked like things might change for the better when Teva Pharmaceuticals, the manufacturer of Plan B One-Step, filed a supplemental new drug application with the FDA to ensure that the drug would be available OTC for women of all ages.
But U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebilius blocked the FDA commissioner's approval of the application, even though it included additional data that confirmed its safety for all-ages use. The next day, President Obama publicly supported Sebelius's decision, "as a father of two daughters." Blergh.
Thankfully, the Center for Reproductive Rights' renewed its lawsuit against the agency seeking to expand over-the counter access to all brands of the morning-after pill, such as Plan B One-Step and Next Choice, to women of all ages, and now they've won! In his decision today, U.S. District Court Judge Edward Korman called the actions by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebilius "politically motivated, scientifically unjustified, and contrary to agency precedent." He continued: "The decisions of the Secretary with respect to Plan B One-Step and that of the FDA with respect to the Citizen Petition, which it had no choice but to deny, were arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable."
"Today science has finally prevailed over politics," Nancy Northup, president and CEO for the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. "This landmark court decision has struck a huge blow to the deep-seated discrimination that has for too long denied women access to a full range of safe and effective birth control methods.
"Women all over the country will no longer face arbitrary delays and barriers just to get emergency contraception. It's a true victory for all women, especially young women, women without government-issued identification, and those who live in areas with limited pharmacy hours."
There are still some crucial unanswered questions — how affordable will it be, for one — and the government hasn't yet said whether it'll file an appeal, but the decision is still cause for instant celebration. It's ridiculous that it's taken this long for the government to OK a totally safe medication, but it's great timing, considering the growing number of companies that are fighting Obamacare's contraceptive mandate in court. Women of all ages need access to emergency contraception — and, in just 30 days, they should be able to purchase it as easily as aspirin.