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In Surprise Move, Obama Decides to Allow Minors to Buy Morning-After Pill

In a decision bound to upset social conservatives, the Obama administration has decided to allow minors to obtain the controversial “morning after” emergency contraceptive pill.

The administration is dropping its appeal of a judge’s order requiring the pill to be sold over the counter, a decision that is sure to be broadly applauded by women’s groups.

In April, U.S. District Judge Edward Korman ruled that the government must allow over-the-counter sales. Last week a federal appeals court rejected the administration’s challenge to that ruling.

The Justice Department sent a letter yesterday to Korman, saying the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services had agreed to make the single-pill version of the drug available “without age or point-of-sale restrictions.”

“It is the government’s understanding that this course of action fully complies with the court’s judgment in this action,” the letter states. “Once the court confirms that the government’s understanding is correct, the government intends to file with the circuit court notice that it is voluntarily withdrawing its appeal in this matter.”

The decision puts an end to a fight that had been going on for years between President Obama and women’s rights groups. The president had made it a personal matter, angering groups upset that a Democratic president was siding with social conservatives. In 2011, he supported Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ controversial decision to overrule the advice of her own scientists.

“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 at the time.

According to the letter to the judge, the FDA has told the maker of the pills to submit a new drug application with proposed labeling that would permit it to be sold “without a prescription and without age or point-of-sale prescriptions.” The FDA said that after it receives the application it “intends to approve it promptly.”

Annie Tummino, lead plaintiff in a lawsuit over unrestricted access to the morning-after pill and coordinator of the National Women’s Liberation, said women and girls should have “the absolute right to control our bodies without having to ask a doctor or a pharmacist for permission.”

“It’s about time that the administration stopped opposing women having access to safe and effective birth control,” she said in a statement.

In her own statement, Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards called the government’s decision to drop the appeal “a huge breakthrough for access to birth control and a historic moment for women’s health and equity.”

But opponents of the pill, such as the anti-abortion Family Research Council, lashed the government for not sticking with its decision to appeal.

“We’re very concerned and disappointed at the same time because what we see here is the government caving to political pressure instead of putting first the health and safety of girls (and) parental rights,” said Anna Higgins, director of the council’s Center for Human Dignity.

The morning-after pill contains a higher dose of the female hormone progestin than regular birth control pills. Taking it within 72 hours of rape, condom failure or just forgetting regular contraception can cut the chances of pregnancy by up to 89 percent, but it works best within the first 24 hours. The pill has no effect if a girl or woman already is pregnant because it prevents ovulation or fertilization of an egg. 


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