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The Guardian: Plan B age-restriction appeal from US government denied by federal judge

Obama administration appealed against ruling that emergency contraception should be available to women of all ages

Reprinted from The Guardian

A federal judge has denied an appeal by the US government to an order granting the unrestricted access of emergency contraception to women of all ages.

Eastern court federal district judge Edward Korman ruled in April that emergency contraception should be available to women of all ages without a prescription, citing the support of numerous reputable medical groups and the US Food and Drug Administration.

Days before the order was set to go into effect, the government filed an appeal against the ruling. Judge Korman called the appeal frivolous in a Friday court opinion, but allowed it to move forward if the government filed a stay with the court of appeals by Monday.

Korman has been critical of the government’s actions throughout the proceedings. He has repeatedly said he thinks the government’s decision is politically motivated and goes against scientific evidence.

In December 2011, US secretary of health and human services Kathleen Sebelius made an unprecedented move when she overturned the FDA’s recommendation that access to emergency contraception should be unrestricted. Sebelius cited concerns about the drug’s impact on young girls.

Korman said that age group had been used in the debate as a “red herring to justify continued burdens suffered by older women who seek access to the drug”, because the amount of young girls who need access to the medication is “miniscule”.

He said that if the stay was granted, “it will allow the bad-faith, politically motivated decision of Secretary Sebelius, who lacks any medical or scientific expertise, to prevail – thus justifiably undermining the public’s confidence in the drug approval process”.

On 30 April – days before Korman’s court-ordered deadline to make emergency contraception available without restrictions – the FDA approved an application by the manufacture of Plan B One-Step to make the medication available over the counter to women aged 15 and over. The government agency said its decision was made independent of this court proceeding.

Reproductive rights group supported the move but were critical of a limitation that requires women to present photo identification to purchase the medication. Korman too was critical of this decision on Friday, calling the agreement between the FDA and the drug manufacture Teva unjustifiable because of the identification restriction.

Korman said that statistics show that the FDA’s recent decision places “a disproportionate burden” on African American and poor adults aged 18 and older. This is in part because the FDA decision does not apply to generic drugs, which are typically less expensive.

Emergency contraception is extremely time sensitive and the most popular kinds are most effective when taken within 72 hours of having unprotected sex.

Andrea Costello, senior attorney at the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, which represent plaintiffs in the original case, said Friday’s order reaffirmed that the government’s requirements for age and identification restrictions have never been supported by scientific evidence.

“The decision today shows that the government’s appeal of the court’s order is frivolous and more of the same delay that it has engaged in for 12 years at the expense of women and girls who need access to emergency contraception as quick as possible,” Costello said. “The court’s denial of the government’s request for a stay also confirms what the plaintiffs have been saying all along – the administration continues to play politics with women’s access to emergency contraception.”