“Morning-after” pill can be given to all ages, judge rules

NEW YORK — A federal judge in Brooklyn has ruled that the so-called “morning-after pill” for contraception should be made available to women of all ages over the counter, without a prescription and without point-of-sale restrictions.

U.S. District Judge Edward Korman found that existing restrictions of the Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services limiting access to women 17 and older were “arbitrary and capricious.”

Korman said the agencies had bowed to “political pressure” from the White House, and said there was no health risk in making it available even to girls as young as young as 10 or 11. He said the imprudence of children that young having intercourse was not part of the statutory standard for drug regulation.

“The standards are the same for aspirin and contraceptives,” Korman wrote.

He ordered that his ruling should take effect in 30 days. The lawsuit over the morning-after pill — known as the Plan B contraceptive — was initiated by reproductive rights groups.

Currently, women under 17 have to have a prescription, and women older than 17 can only purchase the pill at a pharmacy with identification.

Justice Department officials said they haven’t decided whether to appeal yet. At the White House, a spokesman for President Barack Obama said he still supported the decision to try to restrict young girls’ access to the morning-after pill.

“He believes it was the right common-sense approach to this issue,” Obama press secretary Jay Carney said.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, one of the groups that sued to overturn restrictions on the pill, lauded Korman’s decision.

“Today science has finally prevailed over politics,” said Nancy Northup, president of the group. “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.”

But the Family Research Council said in a statement the decision puts young girls’ health at risk because it circumvents “necessary medical screenings” and ignores concerns about insufficient data on how the pill affects the health of young girls.

“Making Plan B available for girls under the age of 17 without a prescription flies in the face of medical information and sound judgment,” said Anna Higgens, director of the council’s Center for Human Dignity.

“There is a real danger that Plan B may be given to young girls, under coercion or without their consent. The involvement of parents and medical professionals act as a safeguard for these young girls. However, today’s ruling removes these commonsense protections,” concluded Higgins.

Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards said quick and easy access to the morning-after pill was safe even for young teens, and necessary to allow girls to avoid unintended pregnancies due to ineffective contraception or unprotected sex.

“This ruling is good policy, good science and good sense,” she said.

JoAnn Smith, president of Planned Parenthood of Nassau County, N.Y., agreed, saying the local organization welcomes the ruling.

“We are very, very, very happy for women of all ages,” she said. “It expands access to birth control and to the health care that women need in order to prevent unintended pregnancies. We know that teen pregnancy is higher than it should be in Nassau County, and not all teens have access to sex-education courses which would provide them with the information they need.

“If you make the decision to be sexually active, you must practice safe sex and that means not only birth control, but also condoms to avoid sexually transmitted diseases. This (morning-after) pill is only a backup. Accidents do happen, and this is the safety belt to make sure and to prevent unintended pregnancies.”

But Deirdre McQuade, spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Secretariat for Pro Life Activities, countered that the court “acted irresponsibly by making this powerful drug available without a prescription to minor children.”

“Plan B does not prevent or treat any disease, but makes young adolescent girls more available to sexual predators. The court’s action undermines parents’ ability to protect their daughters from such exploitation and from the adverse effects of the drug itself.”