Previously, the Food and Drug Administration allowed the drug in question, Plan B, and its generic equivalent to be sold without a prescription only to women age 17 and over, and only over-the-counter with an ID. But the ruling by U.S. District Judge Edward R. Korman allows Plan B to be sold to anyone, regardless of age. That means girls who find themselves pregnant, even pre-teens, could buy the drug without parental involvement. About 10 percent of girls reach reproductive age at 11, although the average age is 12.
Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), had argued in 2011 that girls as young as 11 could not be trusted to use the drug properly. It was one of the few times that Sebelius and social conservatives had found themselves on the same side of a major issue.
But Korman in his April 5 ruling said the "invocation of the adverse effect of Plan B on 11-year-olds is an excuse to deprive the overwhelming majority of women of their right to obtain contraceptives without unjustified and burdensome restrictions."
Under the previous rule, young girls could get the drug via a prescription. Kornan, though, ruled that was not sufficient because it has the "cumulative effect of preventing some women from accessing the drug within the short time frame during which it will be effective."
Kornan said the drugs must be made available to girls within 30 days.
Plan B and its sister drug, Plan B One-Step, work in part by restricting ovulation in a woman or preventing fertilization. But it is their back-up mechanism that draws particular opposition from pro-lifers. According to the FDA website, the back-up mechanism works post-fertilization by "preventing attachment" of a tiny embryo to the uterine wall. Pro-lifers consider that a chemical abortion.
The drug sometimes is called a "morning-after pill" and to work, must be taken within three days of sex. According to the FDA, it fails to work one out of eight times.
It is not known if the Obama administration will appeal the ruling. In 2011, Obama supported Sebelius.
"The reason Kathleen made this decision was she could not be confident that a 10-year-old or an 11-year-old into a drugstore, should be able -- alongside bubble gum or batteries -- be able to buy a medication that potentially, if not used properly, could end up having an adverse effect," Obama said at the time.
Anna Higgins, the director of the Center for Human Dignity at the Family Research Council, expressed April 5 concern not only about the unborn but also about the young women who take the drug.
"This ruling places the health of young girls at risk. Making Plan B available for girls under the age of 17 without a prescription flies in the face of medical information and sound judgment," Higgins said.
Male sexual predators, Higgins said, could take advantage of girls under the judge's ruling.
"There is a real danger that Plan B may be given to young girls, under coercion or without their consent," she said. "The involvement of parents and medical professionals act as a safeguard for these young girls. However, today's ruling removes these commonsense protections."
Higgins also noted that in 2008 -- the last year for which data is available -- there were 19,700,000 new sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
"Most of the new cases crop up in young men and women aged 15-25. Making Plan B available over-the-counter for any age will put many of these young girls at further risk because it circumvents necessary medical screening for sexually active girls," Higgins said.
Kornan was nominated by President Reagan.
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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