Heading into 2012, it seems the issue that’ll be dominating sexual health headlines is access to Plan B, the ‘morning after’ birth control pill. The next move in the ongoing political saga over emergency contraceptive sales lies with a federal judge in Brooklyn—and that could be a very good thing.
Judge Edward Korman, who is hearing arguments today about over-the-counter sales of Plan B, has a history of supporting greater emergency contraceptive access. He first considered the issue two years ago, when the Center for Reproductive Rights and other health groups brought a lawsuit charging the Food and Drug Administration with holding emergency contraceptives to a different standard than other drugs. Korman agreed, saying the FDA was letting ”political considerations, delays and implausible justifications” interfere with its approval process. He ordered the agency to allow anyone over 17 to purchase Plan B without a prescription—before that, the cut-off was 18.
But Teva Pharmaceuticals, the maker of Plan B, wants the pill to be sold over-the-counter, in drugstore aisles, with no age restrictions. Whether the federal government is acting constitutionally in preventing this is what Judge Korman must decide.
Today’s arguments are coming less than a week after Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled FDA scientists who wanted to allow over-the-counter sales of Plan B One Step. Sebelius said there wasn’t sufficient evidence that teenage girls could ‘safely’ use the pill without a prescription. President Barack Obamaendorsed the decision. (New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, however, said he didn’t agree, and Plan B should be available to everyone without a prescription.)
According to Time magazine, Sebelius’ decision on Dec. 8 was the first time a Health and Human Services Secretary has ever publicly overruled the FDA.
Emergency contraception—a high-dose form of regular hormonal birth control—can prevent pregnancy if taken within 3-5 days after unprotected sex. Social conservatives like to charge the pill with causing abortions (it doesn’t; Plan B, like most hormonal contraceptives, works primarily by preventing en egg from being fertilized) or conflate Plan B with RU-485/mifepristone, the abortion pill.
The next word on Plan B will likely come from Korman. With his history of cutting through political bullshit on contraception in favor of greater access, the future looks bright for the morning-after pill in America.