WASHINGTON — In a surprise twist to the decade-plus effort to ease access to morning-after pills, the government is lowering the age limit to 15 for one brand — Plan B One-Step — and will let it be sold over the counter.
Today, Plan B and its generic competition are sold behind pharmacy counters, and people must prove they’re 17 or older to buy the emergency contraception without a prescription. A federal judge had ordered an end to those sales restrictions by next Monday.
But Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration approved a different approach: Plan B could sit on drugstore shelves next to condoms, spermicides or other women’s health products — but to make the purchase, buyers must prove they’re 15 or older at the cash register.
Manufacturer Teva Women’s Health, which had applied for the compromise path, said it planned to make the switch in a few months.
The question is whether Tuesday’s action settles the larger court fight. Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Edward Korman of New York blasted the Obama administration for imposing the age-17 limit, saying it had let election-year politics trump science and were making it hard for women of any age to obtain emergency contraception in time for it to work.
The FDA said Tuesday’s decision was independent of the court case and wasn’t intended to address it. The Justice Department remained mum on whether it planned to appeal Korman’s ruling by Monday’s deadline, and the White House had no immediate comment.
The women’s group that sued over the age limits said Tuesday’s action is not enough, and it will continue the court fight if necessary.
Lowering the age limit “may reduce delays for some young women but it does nothing to address the significant barriers that far too many women of all ages will still find if they arrive at the drugstore without identification,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights.