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Why Obama will finally allow all women and girls to buy Plan B
The Obama administration is giving up its fight to keep the emergency contraceptive prescription-only for women 17 and under
 
The Obama administration will allow unrestricted sales of Plan B One-Step.
The Obama administration will allow unrestricted sales of Plan B One-Step. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

"The Obama administration has gone to Plan C on Plan B," says Julie Rovner at NPR. On Monday night, the Justice Department said it is prepared to drop its effort to fight a federal judge's order to allow the emergency contraceptive Plan B to be sold over-the-counter, with no age restrictions.

This could spell the end to a long fight over the so-called morning-after pill. Women's health advocates have been petitioning to have Plan B — a high-dose birth-control pill that prevents conception if taken within 72 hours of sex — available without prescription to all ages, and the FDA agreed in 2011, but only to be overruled by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. U.S. District Judge Edward Korman ordered the FDA to lift the restrictions, in a series of sharply worded rulings.

In a letter to Korman released Monday (read below), the Justice Department says it will end its appeal and allow unrestricted sales of Plan B One-Step — but not the less-used two-pill combo or generic versions, at least not now — if Korman approves their plan. The plan involves granting rush approval to a new OTC label from Plan B maker Teva Pharmaceutical.

So what happened? Essentially, the Obama administration caved, say Michael D. Shear and Pam Belluck in The New York Times.

The Justice Department appears to have concluded that it might lose its case with the appeals court and would have to decide whether to appeal to the Supreme Court. That would drastically elevate the debate over the politically delicate issue for Mr. Obama.... The decision is certain to anger abortion-rights opponents, who oppose letting young girls have access to the drug without the involvement of a parent or a doctor. [New York Times]

Women's health advocates, on the other hand, were pleased — mostly. Planned Parenthood's Cecile Richards called the decision to drop the appeal "a huge breakthrough for access to birth control and a historic moment for women's health and equity." Mara Verheyden-Hilliard at the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund — the group that is representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit — vowed, "We will not rest in this fight until the morning-after pill is made available without delay and obstruction."

The mood from critics of the Obama stance on Plan B — mostly people in Obama's own party — was mostly that the decision was long overdue.

This "ends an embarrassing chapter for the White House where teenage girls were held hostage and not allowed a perfectly safe product that could stop an unintended pregnancy," says Taylor Marsh at her blog. And "you don't deserve any credit for doing the medically sound thing after getting pilloried for a political move that hurts teenagers and other women."

Actually, this is what people mean when they say "Obama engages in 11-dimensional chess," says Martin Longman at Booman Tribune. Obama has taken a lot of heat from his base for opposing easy access to Plan B for teenage girls, and then appealing when the courts ruled against him, but we end up with the right policy, Longman says. "This helped assure that the controversy didn't galvanize Obama's opponents in an election year while never actually jeopardizing the right outcome."

Letter to Korman Re Compliance After Denial of Stay Rev Final Copy

 
Peter Weber is a senior editor at TheWeek.com, and has handled the editorial night shift since 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian, and plays in an Austin rock band.

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