The Justice Department announced on Monday that it will allow the most popular morning after pill, Plan B, to be available over the counter to women of all ages, dropping its appeal of a federal court order.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said in a statement that it has “asked the manufacturer of Plan B One-Step to submit a supplemental application seeking approval of the one-pill product to be made available O.T.C. without any such restrictions” and “intends to approve it promptly.” Generic versions may also be eventually approved. The morning after pill prevents conception “if taken within 72 hours after sexual intercourse.”
The decision comes after a federal judge in April ordered the FDA to lift restrictions on the morning-after pill. The administration responded to the ruling by lowering the age restriction from 17 to 15, sparking the ire of health groups and district Judge Edward Korman, who, in a series of contemptuous opinions, called the administration’s defiance an insult to the intelligence of women” and “a charade” meant to stall his original order. Last week, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the administration to make two-pill versions of emergency contraception immediately available over the counter to women of all ages.
Women’s health groups embraced the administrations’ decision on Monday, calling it a “huge breakthrough for access to birth control and a historic moment for women’s health and equity.” “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,” Planned Parenthood Federation of America president Cecile Richards said in a statement.
Medical experts have consistently argued that the administration’s arbitrary age limits have no basis in scientific research, as multiple studies have found Plan B to be safer than aspirin for all ages. In December 2011, the FDA approved Plan B for over the counter use for all women, but amended its policy after Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled the agency, claiming that “the manufacturer had failed to study whether the drug was safe for girls as young as 11.”