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Morning-after pill for all girls; federal government drops appeal

June 11, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
After a storm of criticism, the Obama administration is changing its stance on the morning-after pill: It now plans to comply with a judge's order to allow girls of any age to buy the emergency contraception.

Only girls 15 and older were able to buy a certain brand of the morning-after pill at pharmacies before, but U.S. District Judge Edward Korman ruled on April 5 that emergency contraceptives should be made available without a prescription, over the counter and without point-of-sale or age restrictions.

"Rape can happen at any age. Women can find themselves drugged at any age, so to me, I don't see a problem with it at all," said Leslie Schultz of South Pasadena.

The Obama administration had promised to appeal, but then, the federal government reversed course. The Justice Department notified U.S. District Judge Edward Korman on Monday that it will submit a plan for compliance. If approved, the department will drop its appeal of his April ruling.

The Food and Drug Administration has ordered the maker of Plan B pills to have new labeling that would allow it to be sold "without a prescription and without age or point-of-sale prescriptions," according to the Justice Department's letter to the judge.

The morning-after pill can be taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex to cut the chances of pregnancy by 89 percent. If the woman is already pregnant, the drug has no effect.

"Medical experts seem to think it's perfectly safe, so why not," said Pat Ryan of South Pasadena.

Zahra Shahniani, a pharmacist at Fair Oaks Pharmacy in Pasadena, says this ruling concerns her because most of the customers that she sees buying Plan B One Step are teenagers.

"There's no control over it anymore," she said. "Are we ready for it?"

Unlike the abortion pill, ABC Chief Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser describes Plan B as a stronger birth control pill, which prevents the egg from getting fertilized in the first place, but it can't prevent everything.

"If someone is taking this product, I think they also need to see their doctor and be tested for sexually transmitted diseases," said Besser.

And for teens, opponents question Plan B's safety.

"A young teenage girl's body is still developing, and there aren't any studies on how this will impact her long-term health," said Anna Franzonello with Americans United for Life.

Critics say the president is buckling to political pressure, but advocates for girls' and women's rights said the federal government's decision moves forward reproductive rights for all women.

"It's about time that the administration stopped opposing women having access to safe and effective birth control," said Annie Tummino, coordinator of the National Women's Liberation and lead plaintiff in a lawsuit over unrestricted access to the morning-after pill.

She said women and girls should have "the absolute right to control our bodies without having to ask a doctor or a pharmacist for permission."

White House officials have argued that the FDA and the Department of Justice were acting independently of the White House, and all questions about the decision were referred to Health and Human Services.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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