Court Rules on Emergency Contraception: Is Long Reign of Un-Science, Un-Reason Over?

The Court ruled that the FDA must make Plan B available without prescription to women aged 17 and older.

Good news (and long overdue, depending upon how you look at it) on women's access to health care. Remember the FDA's dragging of their heels on a decision to allow emergency contraception to be made available without a prescription during the era-of-non-scientific-thought-and-reasoning also known as the Bush administration? The U.S. District Court ruled today that the FDA did in fact act improperly.

From a press release from Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health:

The United States District Court today ruled that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) acted improperly when considering an application to make emergency contraception (EC) available without a prescription. Justice Edward R. Korman found that “the FDA repeatedly and unreasonably delayed issuing a decision” on EC, and that the agency’s denial of non-prescription access to 17-year-olds “lacks all credibility.”

The FDA has been ordered to make non-prescription EC available to women aged 17 and older within 30 days, and to reconsider the sale of EC to women of all ages. Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health issued the following statement from board chair Suzanne T. Poppema, MD, in response to today’s ruling:

“Today’s ruling restores science to its rightful place at the Food and Drug Administration. Numerous studies have shown that women of all ages can use emergency contraception safely and effectively, but political maneuvering led to unnecessary restrictions on this medication. I am grateful that the court listened to the medical experts in this case and expanded non-prescription access to 17-year-olds."

According to the ACLU, the decision criticized the FDA for "allowing politics to interfere in its decision-making process." Equally as significant, the ACLU notes, the court also states that "the FDA’s denial of non-prescription access without age restriction went against the recommendation of a committee of experts it had empanelled to advise it on Plan B; and the Commissioner -- at the behest of political actors -- decided to deny non-prescription access to women 16 and younger before FDA scientific review staff had completed their reviews."

The gist of all of this is that, as health providers, advocates, and level-headed politicians desperately attempted to make clear back in 2006 during this challenge, denying women access to critical health care services for pure political gain or a sense of righteousness will not be tolerated in a democratic society. While it's fulfiling to see justice prevail in this case, it's important to keep in mind how many other reproductive health care challenges fall under this same umbrella. 

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