The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has asked the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn a federal court order directing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to lift longstanding restrictions that impede and delay access to emergency contraception (EC) for women of all ages.
On April 5, U.S. District Court Judge Edward Korman ordered the FDA to make levonorgestrel-based emergency contraception available without a prescription and without point-of-sale or age restrictions within 30 days. The ruling was in response to a renewed lawsuit against the agency to expand over-the counter access to the morning-after pill to women of all ages. 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. Judge Korman called that decision "politically motivated, scientifically unjustified, and contrary to agency precedent," and "arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable." The Obama Administration has asked Judge Korman to stay his April court order pending the outcome of their appeal.
The DOJ's May 1 announcement came just one day after the FDA approved Plan B One-Step, one of several EC drugs, to be sold over-the-counter and without a prescription, but only to women ages 15 and up.. Retailers will still be required to follow strict age verification procedures, including asking all customers who want to buy EC for proof of age. This decision responds to a case filed by Plan B's manufacturer, Teva, which will now enjoy exclusive rights for 3 years to market Plan B. The single dose packet sells for about $50.
This was not the policy stance in support of science and women’s health that we expect from this administration.
– It still isn’t based in science. There’s no scientific reason to impose age restrictions on Plan B.
– It imposes an additional burden on women of every age who will have to provide proof of age. The new Plan B packaging will include a product code that prompts the cashier to verify the customer’s age, a stigmatizing and embarrassing barrier to this important health benefit. When the old FDA guidelines restricted emergency contraception for those under 17, it created issues even for those who were well above the age limit. Pharmacists too often falsely tell older women they may not purchase emergency contraception without a prescription or incorrectly deny Plan B to men.
– Women without age-related ID will be at additional risk, including undocumented women, women without drivers' licenses such as many city residents and younger teens, and women who don't have their ID on hand.
Half the nation's pregnancies every year are unintended, and doctors' groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics say more access to morning-after pills could cut those numbers. The pills contain higher doses of regular contraceptives, and if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, can cut the chances of pregnancy by up to 89 percent. But it works best if taken in the first 24 hours. Although most teenagers report first intercourse with a steady partner and consensual sex, approximately 10% report being forced to have sex.
We are disappointed that our government is still letting politics trump science. There is no medical justification for an age restriction on access to Emergency Contraception. It’s a barrier that affects women of all ages. As a result, many women who would like to use this safe and effective, after-the-fact contraceptive won’t be able to get timely access to it, and that’s a shame. We call on the White House, Health and Human Services Department, and Department of Justice, to respect the recent court order, and over a decade of sound science. Our health and our rights demand that they authorize access to over-the-counter emergency contraception without the barrier of age, and drop the challenge to Judge Korman's court order.