Reproductive rights groups will be disappointed to hear that the Justice Department is appealing a federal judge's recent ruling to make the morning-after pill available over-the-counter to all ages. According to the Associate Press, "The federal government says the judge who issued the ruling had exceeded his authority and that his decision should be suspended while the appeal is underway." That means that the U.S. District Judge Edward Korman's bold decision to break rank from the last Obama administration and lift all age limits on all emergency contraceptives is now suspended until the appeal can be heard. However, this week's decision by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to make the Plan B One-Step brand emergency contraception available to girls 16 and up remains unaffected.
"Disappointed" might not necessarily be the right word to describe how this news will affect those that support greater access to contraception. "Frustrated" works too, as does "annoyed." You see, this battle over age limits on the morning-after pill has been going on for years, and it has been frustrating to see the federal government contradict itself time and time again. Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, turned her back on the FDA's finding in 2011 that the morning-after pill was safe and should be made available to all ages. Instead, she maintained that it should be available only to girls 17 and older. As The Times points out, "It was the first time a cabinet secretary had publicly overruled the FDA."
This is obviously not just a question of public health, however. There are intensely divisive politics at play with anything related to contraception, and the morning-after pill is no exception, though science does play a role. At this point, the debate seems to be moving from the confusing part of the field to the annoying part, as it becomes apparent that the Obama administration and the FDA still can't seem to come to an agreement on the issue. Isn't it a little crazy is it that 15- and 16-year-old girls can buy one specific brand of morning-after pill over-the-counter but not the cheaper generics?