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I. Glenn Cohen, a health policy analyst at Harvard Law School who used to work at the Justice Department, said before the appeal was announced that the decision would likely be a close call. He noted that the administration would want to preserve the executive branch’s right to make these kinds of decisions and to contest the idea that officials abused their discretion in 2011.

Pro-choice forces already had signaled they would not be happy with a decision to appeal.

Andrea Costello, a staff attorney for the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, who represented the plaintiffs before Judge Korman, accused the Obama administration this week of playing politics and “speaking out of both sides of its mouth when it comes to the basic right of women and girls.”

This is not the first time Mr. Obama and his Cabinet have been hammered over contraception. Conservative lawmakers, churches, religious nonprofit groups and devout business owners are challenging a part of the federal health care law that requires most employer-provided insurance to cover oral contraception and post-intercourse pills such as Plan B and ella, which they equate with abortion.

The Susan B. Anthony List and other pro-life groups sharply rejected Mr. Obama’s attempt in February to divorce religious nonprofits from the mandate. But it took a mixed approach this week, urging the Obama administration to stand by its 2011 decision on Plan B One-Step while rebuking health officials for slackening age restrictions at all.

“The FDA is recklessly positioning itself as a parent to our children,” SBA President Marjorie Dannenfelser said of Tuesday’s FDA decision.

Some political voices were more forgiving. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists applauded the move while reaffirming its position that emergency contraception should be available over-the-counter to people of all ages.

Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat, also deemed it “a step in the right direction” that “moves us closer to these critical availability decisions being based on science, not politics.”