Judge Rules That Emergency Contraception Should Be Available to Everyone

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A federal judge has ruled that the emergency contraception drug Plan B One-Step, a.k.a. the “morning-after pill,” must be made available over the counter to everyone. The decision, issued Friday, overturns a rule that required anyone 16 years old and younger to have a prescription in order to get the pill.

In 2011, despite the Food and Drug Administration’s determination that Plan B is safe for all ages, the Department of Health and Human Services decided to block teenagers from buying the drug without a prescription. President Barack Obama endorsed HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ decision, arguing that the government “could not be confident that a 10-year-old or an 11-year-old going into a drugstore should be able—alongside bubble gum or batteries—be able to buy a medication that potentially, if not used properly, could end up having an adverse effect.”

But Judge Edward R. Korman of Federal District Court ruled Friday that this was not an acceptable reason to deny access, and that Sebelius’ decision “was politically motivated, scientifically unjustified, and contrary to agency precedent.” He wrote:

This case is not about the potential misuse of Plan B by 11-year-olds. These emergency contraceptives would be among the safest drugs sold over-the-counter, the number of 11-year-olds using these drugs is likely to be miniscule, the FDA permits drugs that it has found to be unsafe for the pediatric population to be sold over-the-counter subject only to labeling restrictions, and its point-of-sale restriction on this safe drug is likewise inconsistent with its policy and the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act as it has been construed. Instead, the invocation of the adverse effect of Plan B on 11-year-olds is an excuse to deprive the overwhelming majority of women of their right to obtain contraceptives without unjustified and burdensome restrictions.

Reproductive rights groups cheered the court ruling, which came after more than a decade of legal wrangling over the issue. “Science has finally prevailed over politics, to the benefit of millions of women across the United States,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, the group that filed suit against the FDA over the decision.

Northup and other reproductive rights group argued that the age limits harmed teenagers who required timely access to the drug, which is supposed to be used within 72 hours of unprotected sex. But the age limit also harmed older women, too, because it meant that they had to have a government-issued ID confirming their age in order to access the pill, and its availability was restricted to the hours that pharmacies are open. The use of emergency contraception has become much more common in recent years, with 11 percent of fertile, sexually active women reporting that they have used EC. Now that Plan B will be easier to access, you can expect that number to increase.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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