Plan B access: A judge rules sensibly on emergency contraception

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The Obama administration has finally made the right decision on Plan B, bringing to a near-close a decadelong battle over the drug's availability.

Administration officials said last week that they will end efforts to block over-the-counter sales of the emergency contraceptive Plan B One-Step to girls under 15. As a result, anyone will soon be able to purchase the drug off the shelf and without a prescription.

The real credit goes to U.S. District Judge Edward R. Korman, who has presided over legal challenges to the morning-after pill's availability for eight years and who rightly chided the president and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius for blocking access to the drug on political rather than medical grounds.

The administration has resisted efforts to improve access to the pill, despite the scientific community's consensus that the drug is safe and effective. Ms. Sebelius and others who opposed expanding the availability of Plan B claimed to do so on the basis of safety concerns, but Plan B is far less risky than many over-the-counter drugs. What sets it apart from other drugs is its link to women's sexual and reproductive freedom -- the real target of Plan B's opponents.

Plan B's expanded availability will allow young women to reduce the chance of pregnancy in cases of emergency without hassle or parental interference, both of which are crucial because the drug becomes less effective the later it is taken.

But reproductive health advocates still have work to do. It is unclear whether generic forms of the morning-after pill, which cost $30 to $40 compared to Plan B One-Step at $40 to $50, will be available for unrestricted purchase. Also, neither Judge Korman nor the Obama administration will approve for unrestricted purchase any two-step versions of the morning-after pill, which cost less than $40. The Food and Drug Administration says there is not enough evidence that young women can take the two-dose version as responsibly as the one-step, and the judge ruled that restrictions can remain on two-step products.

Maintaining these unreasonable hurdles will only hurt poor women. Moving forward, the federal government ought to prioritize women's health and end restrictions on these safe and effective forms of emergency contraception.

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