The Obama Administration will appeal a court order that would lift all age limits on who can buy the emergency contraceptive Plan B, also known as the morning-after pill, without a prescription.
In early April, Judge Edward Korman of New York's Eastern District ordered the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to do just that, giving them 30 days – until May 6 – to comply.
On Tuesday, the FDA seemed to meet the court halfway, approving the over-the-counter sale of Plan B to girls 15 or older, provided they could verify their age.
But a day later, the Department of Justice filed an appeal on the court order, asking Judge Korman to stay his order until the appeal request has been processed.
Jim Mangia, the president and CEO of St. John's Well Child and Family Center in South Los Angeles, described the decision to appeal as "shortsighted."
"Pregnancy is a beautiful and it's a wonderful thing," he said. "It needs to be a planned aspect of someone's life. And it needs to be done when folks are ready for it, and when people are prepared, and when girls have finished high school and have gone to college and have a future ahead of them, and we really need to give them the support they need and reduce teen pregnancy rates in South L.A. and across the country."
South Los Angeles has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the county: about 59 teen births for every 1,000 teenage girls, according to the L.A. County public health department's latest estimates. Mangia pointed to those disparately high rates as reasons to make sure there aren't obstacles to resources like the morning-after pill.
Emergency contraception is taken within the first few days after unprotected sexual intercourse (or intercourse where contraception may have failed) to prevent an unintended pregnancy. That timeliness is crucial, notes the World Health Organization:
Emergency contraception is effective only in the first few days following intercourse before the ovum is released from the ovary and before the sperm fertilizes the ovum. Emergency contraceptive pills cannot interrupt an established pregnancy or harm a developing embryo.
Teen pregnancy, Mangia said, is one of the largest causes of poverty and "ill health," and girls who aren't at least 15 but still in need of the morning-after pill will find themselves facing "a lot of obstacles."
"A lot of people don't think that girls who are 13 or 14 should have sex, and I would certainly tend to agree with them," said Mangia. "But the fact is that they are. And so what are we doing to prevent that, what are we doing to prevent pregnancy, what kind of education are we providing?"
Mangia said it's not just about access to the morning-after pill. There aren't enough programs in "poor communities like South Los Angeles" working to prevent teen pregnancy in general, he said.
"Clearly we have to remove barriers to girls and women having control over their bodies and having control over when they get pregnant," said Mangia. "That's critical."