The fight to make emergency contraceptives – popularly known as Plan B – available to women of all ages over the counter hit another snag Wednesday as the Justice Department announced it would appeal a recent court order that would have removed all restrictions on the drug.
The Federal District Court decision, issued last month by Edward Korman of New York's Eastern District, would have been set to go into effect Monday. The Plan B pill was previously available over the counter to women over the age of 17.
The DOJ decision to appeal is the week's second blow to women's groups, who have fought to remove all restrictions on Plan B for a decade. Earlier this week, the Food and Drug Administration announced it would lower the over-the-counter age to 15, a kind of half-concession, according to people like Susannah Baruch, CEO of the Reproductive Health Technologies Project.
"Both announcements, and particularly taken together, highlight this administration's apparent willingness to cut corners on women's health," Baruch says. "There is simply no medical justification for the FDA's move this week or for the administration's decision to appeal. This is only political interference in scientific decision making."
President Barack Obama has previously said he does not support making Plan B available to women of all ages.
"The question is, can we have the confidence that [adolescents] would potentially use Plan B properly?" Obama said in 2011.
In its announcement, the FDA said Plan B would only be sold to women who show identification and said it changed its guidelines "independent of [the New York decision] and is not intended to address the judge's ruling."
"The data reviewed by the agency demonstrated that women 15 years of age and older were able to understand how Plan B One-Step works, how to use it properly, and that it does not prevent the transmission of a sexually transmitted disease," FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said in a statement. The DOJ appeal will not affect the FDA's decision.
In his decision, Korman wrote that Plan B "would be among the safest drugs sold over-the-counter." He added the FDA's argument that young people could abused by young people was "unpersuasive."
Susan Wood, a professor with George Washington University's School of Public Health and Health Services, blasted the Obama administration over the Department of Justice's decision to appeal the New York decision, invoking a statement Obama released in 2009 regarding stem cell research.
In that statement, Obama said the administration had to let scientists do their jobs and "listen to what they tell us, even when it's inconvenient, especially when it's inconvenient."
"The current decision to appeal is not being based on science or medical evidence. Plan B is safe and effective, just a one time higher dose of regular birth control pills," she says. "Any political concerns should have been over as of the election. The election is over, I thought [Obama] would go back to listening to the science. Unfortunately that hasn't occurred."