The Obama administration said Wednesday that girls younger than 15 should not have access to the most common morning-after contraceptive pill as the Justice Department filed a notice to appeal a judge's order that would make the drug available without a prescription for girls and women of all ages.
The appeal reaffirms an election-year decision by Obama's administration to block the drug's maker from selling it without consideration of age and puts the White House back into the politically charged issue of access to emergency contraception.
In appealing the judge's decision, the Justice Department is following the urging of dozens of conservative, anti-abortion groups who do not want contraceptives made available to young girls. It is sure to draw the ire of some abortion rights advocates who say the drug is safe and should be made available to any girl or woman who wants it.
In December 2011, the secretary of health and human services, Kathleen Sebelius, blocked the sale of the drug to young girls, saying there was not enough data to prove that it would be safe. Last month Judge Edward R. Korman of U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York criticized that decision as political and ordered the administration to make the contraceptive widely available.
For Obama's administration, the decision to appeal the judge's ruling provides an opportunity to reaffirm a moderate position in the broader abortion debate that had drawn praise from conservative groups that are usually critical of the president.
When Sebelius originally denied the drugmaker's request to distribute emergency contraceptives to all ages, the department said she was concerned that there were not enough medical studies to indicate that it would be safe for young girls.
Obama enthusiastically supported Sebelius.
The announcement came a day after the Food and Drug Administration said that one well-known morning-after pill, Plan B One-Step, would be made available without a prescription for girls as young as 15 – instead of only to girls ages 17 and older, as has been the case.
The decision also will make the drugs more accessible by putting them on the shelves with other over-the-counter medications.
The Justice Department's action will not affect that FDA decision. Rather, the department is seeking to overturn a much broader order by the judge that removed restrictions for all ages and for generic versions of the pill, not just Plan B One-Step.