The Obama Administration will cease its efforts to restrict who can buy the morning-after pill, it said on Monday, and will comply with a judge's order to allow girls of any age to buy the emergency contraception without a prescription.
That marks a reversal from its decision on May 1 to appeal the order from U.S. District Judge Edward Korman of New York's Eastern District.
Jim Mangia, the president and CEO of St. John's Well Child and Family Center, has said the morning-after pill is a critical tool for family planning in South Los Angeles:
"With such high rates of teen pregnancy, and all that is involved with that – including an increasing likelihood of a life of poverty, an inability to finish school and develop a career, all of the things that happen with the high teen pregnancy rate – this is a way of chipping away at that," he said.
South L.A. has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the county, according to the L.A. County Department of Public Health: about 59 births for every 1,000 teenage girls. Compare that to the countywide average: about 31 births per 1,000 teen girls.
In another recent interview, Mangia also described the Obama Administration's early-May decision to appeal as "short-sighted":
"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."
If taken within 24 hours of unprotected sexual intercourse, the emergency contraceptive pill Plan B One-Step can prevent unintended pregnancy with an effectiveness rate of up to 95 percent. It remains highly effective if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex. Experts note, however, that using emergency contraception as a go-to for pregnancy prevention isn't preferable to a regular birth control regimen, such as taking birth control pills daily or using an IUD.
The battle over Plan B
Plan B has been at the center of a long and complex battle between federal health officials, the Obama Administration and the courts in recent years.
In late 2011, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said she was convinced "there is adequate and reasonable, well-supported, and sciences-based evidence that Plan B One-Step is safe and effective and should be approved for nonprescription use for all females of child-bearing potential."
Virtually in the same breath, though, she said U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius didn't agree with her, and thus the nonprescription use of the contraceptive in girls younger than 17 would remain unlawful.
On April 5, Judge Korman overruled Sebelius' and said the FDA had to make the contraceptive available without a prescription and without point-of-sale or age restrictions within a 30-day period. (The judge also skewered Sebelius in his opinion.)
On May 1, five days before the ruling went into effect, the Obama Adminstration appealed the order, requesting that Judge Korman stay his order until the appeal had been processed.
On June 5, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit denied that request, ordering that certain morning-after pills be made available over the counter immediately.
Five days later, the Obama Administration announced it was dropping its appeal of Korman's ruling, and that it would make the morning-after pill available over the counter with no restrictions.
NPR notes a couple caveats to that: First, there will likely be a waiting period before the generic (and cheaper) equivalents of Plan B One-Step hit store shelves.
Second, the two-pill versions of emergency contraception, including Plan B and its generic equivalents, will remain behind the counter and only available with a prescription for people younger than 17 – at least for now.
A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that nearly 6 million U.S. women reported using the morning-after pill at least once in their lives.