The Obama administration will stop trying to limit sales of emergency contraception pills, making the morning-after pill available to women of all ages without a prescription.
The US justice department said in a letter on Monday that it planned to comply with a court’s ruling to allow unrestricted sales of Plan B One-Step and that it would withdraw its appeal on the matter.
The move is the latest in a lengthy legal fight over the morning-after pill, which was until recently only available without a prescription to women 17 and older who presented proof of age at a pharmacist’s counter.
Plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit against the FDA said the limit unfairly kept women and girls from accessing the drug, which is most effective when taken within 72 hours of intercourse.
On 5 April US district Judge Edward Korman said the US Food and Drug Administration had been “arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable” in rejecting a citizen petition to make emergency contraception available over the counter to girls of all ages.
Korman ordered the FDA to make emergency contraception available without age and point-of-sale restrictions but said the agency could lift restrictions on only the one-pill version of the drug, Plan B One-Step, if the FDA believed there was a significant difference between that and the two-pill version.
The justice department will not seek to lift restrictions on the two-pill Plan B product, which it says is significantly different from the one-pill version.
The FDA in April granted a petition from Plan B One-Step’s maker, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, to make the pill available without a prescription to girls as young as 15.
The FDA said it would lift the remaining age restriction on Plan B One-Step once it received the appropriate application from Teva. Teva declined to comment.
Annie Tummino, lead plaintiff and co-ordinator of the National Women’s Liberation, said: “This decision by the administration affirms what feminists have been fighting for all along: the morning-after pill should be available to females of all ages, on the shelf at any convenience store, just like aspirin or condoms.”
Plan B has been a political lightning rod. In 2011, after the FDA decided to approve over-the-counter sales with no age limits, US health and human services secretary Kathleen Sebelius had ordered it to reverse course, barring girls under 17 from buying the pills without a prescription.
Barack Obama supported that restriction, invoking his daughters. But the timing, 11 months ahead of the presidential election, sparked criticism that he was trying to placate social conservatives.