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Court Ruling on OTC Emergency Contraception a Thorn in Many Sides

by Shawn M. Griffiths, published

OTC emergency contraception David Dea /

A federal court ruled on Friday that the Obama administration had failed to provide sufficient justification for putting an age restriction on over the counter (OTC) emergency contraception. Therefore, the FDA must allow the sell of the "morning after pill" over the counter to any woman in need of it, regardless of age.

President Obama and Kathleen Sebelius, head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, supported an age requirement of seventeen to access these drugs. Females under the age limit would have to get a prescription.

Pro-abortion groups and women health advocates consider the court's ruling a victory. The Center for Reproductive Rights initially challenged the FDA on this in 2005 after the agency refused to accept an application from a drug manufacturer to make Plan B accessible to women and girls of all ages.

The FDA has gradually changed their position on the matter. In 2006, it allowed OTC Plan B to be available to women 18 and older. However, three years later a federal judge ordered the FDA to lower the age from 18 to 17.

In 2011, the FDA recommended that Plan B One-Step be available over-the-counter to all age groups. However, HHS Secretary Sebelius overruled the recommendation and insisted that there be an age stipulation. President Obama praised her for the decision.

U.S. District Judge Edward R. Korman, however, wrote that Sebelius' decision was “politically motivated, scientifically unjustified and contrary to agency precedent.”

While the latest court ruling is an obvious blow to the Obama administration, it is not likely to go over well with many of his political opponents either.

Many social conservatives have adamantly opposed healthcare-related measures spearheaded by the administration like the HHS mandate, which would require many health insurance providers to include contraception in their coverage. While several who identify with this ideological group generally support additional restrictions on the "morning after pill," eliminating the age requirement will certainly be seen as a step in the wrong direction.

The debate over the government's role in regulating drugs like Plan B and other forms of contraception took center stage in 2012 and continues to be a hotly contested issue. The national focus remains on the discontent one side has with another, the struggle between the side that argues for reproductive rights and the side that argues for freedom of conscience.

It is easy to forget that every now and then, common ground can be found. With the recent court decision to lift the age restriction on OTC emergency contraception, there is enough displeasure to go around.

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