A federal judge ruled Friday that emergency contraception, better known as “the morning-after pill,” should be made available without a prescription and without age restrictions.
Before the ruling, only people older than 17 could get oral emergency contraception like levonorgestrel (Plan B, Next Choice, etc.) without a prescription.
U.S. District Judge Edward Korman said in his ruling that all forms of the pill must be made available to people of all ages within 30 days. He called the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) denial of requests from reproductive rights advocates "arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable."
In 2011, the FDA recommended lifting the age restriction on emergency contraception because research has repeatedly shown it to be safe and effective for women of all ages, but Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled the agency.
Judge Korman called Sebeius’ decision to override the FDA “politically motivated, scientifically unjustified, and contrary to agency precedent.”
Korman’s ruling will hopefully put the issue to rest and make the most common form of emergency birth control available to those who need it, without the continuation of political games that fly in the face of scientific research.
The case in question, Tummino v. Hamburg, is being hailed as a victory for women’s reproductive rights.
“Lifting the age restrictions on over-the-counter emergency contraception is a significant and long-overdue step forward for women’s health that will benefit women of all ages,” Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. “When a woman fears she might become pregnant after her contraceptive has failed or she has had unprotected sex, she needs fast access to emergency contraception, not delays at the pharmacy counter. Lifting these restrictions will allow emergency contraception to be stocked on store shelves, making it more accessible to everyone.”
The Women's Health Practice and Research Network of the American College of Clinical Pharmacy also issued an opinion paper supporting lifting the age restrictions on over-the-counter access to Plan B.
“Despite data demonstrating safety and efficacy, evidence-based decision making has been overshadowed by politically charged actions involving...emergency contraception for over a decade,” the paper said.
The Facts About Teen Pregnancy
While teen pregnancy may be fodder for a growing number of television shows (see MTV’s 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom—or better yet, don’t), teen pregnancy is much rarer than most people think.
Many credit access to birth control and safe-sex education in schools.
A recent article in the American Journal of Public Health stated that the overall pregnancy risk for girls ages 15 to 17 declined by 77 percent from 1995 to 2002 because of improved contraceptive use.
According to the latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), pregnancies among girls ages 15 to 19 are at an all-time low and continue to drop each year. A 2010 poll showed that 96 percent of sexually experienced teenaged girls used some form of contraception, with a condom being the first choice.
Emergency contraception use is also on the rise, increasing from eight percent in 2002 to 14 percent in 2010, the CDC states.