Morning-after Pill Issue in US Court

by Thilaka Ravi on Dec 14 2011 10:49 AM

Morning-after Pill Issue in US Court
Continuing a decade-long legal battle, a US federal judge hears on Tuesday arguments about the government's decision to deny over-the-counter access of emergency contraception to women of all ages.
Federal Judge Edward Korman will hear from the US Food and Drug Administration and the Center for Reproductive Rights, one week after the US government blocked access without a prescription to people under 17.

Women's health groups led by the Center for Reproductive Rights have been urging the FDA to make emergency contraception more widely available to young girls for the past 10 years by filing citizen's petitions with the FDA.

Women's health advocates argue that US regulators have placed politics above science by restricting access to the morning-after pill which can prevent pregnancy if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex.

Korman in 2009 sided with the center and ordered the FDA to address their citizen's petition.

Last week, the US Food and Drug Administration was poised to allow a drug known as Plan-B One Step to be available on drugstore shelves to girls age 12-17 without a prescription, but was overruled at the last minute by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

President Barack Obama later defended Sebelius' move, essentially siding with conservative family groups on the issue and angering many among his liberal base.

"As the father of two daughters, I think it is important for us to make sure that we apply some common sense to various rules when it comes to over-the-counter medicine," Obama said on Thursday.

Tuesday's hearing relates to a separate matter, in which the Center for Reproductive Rights accuses the FDA of ignoring their citizen's petitions, filed beginning in 2001 on behalf of 60 health groups, to increase access to the morning-after pill.

Late Monday, the FDA issued a response, saying that it needs "additional data to support a switch of Plan B for women younger than 17 years of age."

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, a group that says it uses the law to advance reproductive freedom as a fundamental human right, blasted the FDA move.

"On the eve of a contempt hearing, the FDA has once again come up with an excuse to treat the approval of contraceptives differently from any other drug," she said in a statement.

"It is truly stunning the lengths to which the agency will go to deny women access to emergency contraceptives that have been proven safe and effective for years."

Emergency contraception is available at pharmacy counters without a prescription to women age 17 and older, but younger girls must see a doctor first to obtain a prescription.