The Justice Department will appear before a federal judge on Tuesday in its bid to suspend a controversial April 5 ruling that would make emergency contraceptives available to young teenage girls without a prescription in the coming days.
U.S. District Court Judge Edward Korman of New York also told parties in Tummino v. Hamburg that his order to make the morning-after pill Plan B One-Step available to all ages would not take effect until Friday, or five days later than the Monday that had been frequently cited.
In a letter, the judge said the slate of women’s groups who brought the lawsuit against the Food and Drug Administration to broaden access to the pill will have until Monday to formally respond the notice of appeal the Justice Department filed earlier this week.
The ongoing debate over minors’ access to the morning-after pill is testing the loyalty of groups traditionally among the biggest supporters of President Obama, who said Thursday he is “comfortable” with his administration’s efforts to find a middle ground on the issue.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius decided in 2011 to keep age restrictions on the pill in place, and women’s rights groups derided the administration’s decision to appeal Judge Korman’s ruling. They say access to emergency contraception is suitable for all ages.
Pro-life groups that normally lambast the Democratic president cheered the decision to fight Judge Korman’s ruling, although they did not like the FDA’s decision on Tuesday to let girls as young as 15 obtain the drug without a prescription. The prior age limit was 17.
The Obama administration said the FDA lowered the age by approving an application from the pill’s maker, Teva Women’s Health Inc., and that it had nothing to do with the pending federal case. However, attorneys from Justice have noted the 15-year-old threshold now covers all the girls involved in the case — a move the plaintiffs’ attorneys deemed suspicious.
Judge Korman indicated he will give the government two chances to put his ruling on ice.
“The parties are also advised that, in the event that I deny a stay pending appeal, I will grant a stay to allow the defendants to seek a stay from the Court of Appeals,” his letter said.