President Obama still harbors deep reservations about letting young girls buy the morning-after pill without a prescription, even though his administration has decided against fighting a court order that forces it to do just that, his spokesman said Tuesday.
“We have been through a legal process and the court has ruled against the administration … It was the decision, given the court ruling, to proceed with making the simpler version of Plan B available,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said.
Conservatives, concerned about the drug’s implications for sexual activity among young teens, found themselves aligned with Mr. Obama on the issue, even if their camaraderie was short-lived.
“That’s too young, in my book, to be pulling children away from parents,” former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said Tuesday on MSNBC.
In a major reversal, the Obama administration decided to make Plan B One-Step available to customers without restrictions, making it as easy to purchase as aspirin.
U.S. Attorney Loretta E. Lynch announced the decision in a letter on Monday to Judge Edward Korman in New York, who made waves in April by rebuking Mr. Obama’s top health official and ordering the Food and Drug Administration to make the emergency contraceptives freely available to girls of any age.
Mr. Carney said the administration dropped its appeal of that order because the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals told it last week to make a generic, two-pill version of the drug available to all ages while the panel mulled the merits of restricting the one-pill version.
During its appeal, the Obama administration cited procedural flaws in his ruling and a lack of scientific evidence on how the pill could affect girls younger than 15. But Mr. Carney said the appellate court’s order forced the administration to make a practical decision.
The administration’s decision effectively makes Plan B One-Step available off the shelf as soon as a few labeling and regulatory issues are sorted out. It also reopened political debate over how young is too young when it comes to unfettered access to emergency contraceptives.
The Center for Reproductive Rights hailed this week’s developments, but criticized the Obama administration for failing to broaden access to other forms of “generic, more affordable brands of emergency contraception.”
“We are pleased that women should soon be able to buy Plan B One-Step without the arbitrary restrictions that kept it locked behind the pharmacy counter when they needed it most urgently,” the group said. “But we will continue to fight for fair treatment for women who want and need more affordable options.”
It is unclear how long it will take to make the drugs available at stores and pharmacies across the country. In its letter, the government said it will obtain new paperwork from the drug’s maker, Teva Women’s Health, and consider whether generic forms of the drug should also be available to all ages.
The administration’s efforts to take control of the politically volatile issue follows a 2011 decision by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, with support from Mr. Obama, to override the FDA’s advice to make the pill available without age restrictions.
Days before the Justice Department filed its appeal, the FDA lowered the age threshold, from 17 to 15, for unfettered access to the one-pill form of the drug by approving an application from Teva.
Judge Korman rebuked the administration for “sugarcoating” its appeal with the move and accused Mrs. Sebelius of continuing an “administrative filibuster” of the scientists’ attempt to make the pill available to all girls of reproductive age.