Late Wednesday night, the Obama Administration filed an appeal in the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals challenging a federal judge’s decision that emergency contraception must be made available over the counter with no age restrictions. According to the New York Times, the Department of Justice will argue that Judge Edward Korman, who issued the ruling, did not have the authority to order the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to take a specific action and should have sent the case back to the FDA to decide what to do.
The announcement comes a day after the FDA approved new guidelines for the sale of emergency contraception, commonly known as Plan B, as part of an application by the pharmaceutical company Teva Women’s Health. Under the approved guidelines, anyone purchasing Plan B must have proof of age, either a driver’s license, passport, or birth certificate. The package will also be changed to include the statement “not for sale to those under 15 years of age *proof of age required* not for sale where age cannot be verified,” and will include a security tag to prevent theft or sale without proper ID. Anyone who cannot prove their age will be denied the medication.
Nancy Northrup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights which filed the legal case against the FDA, issued a statement saying, “We are deeply disappointed that just days after President Obama proclaimed his commitment to women’s reproductive rights, his administration has decided once again to deprive women of their right to obtain emergency contraception without unjustified and burdensome restrictions.”
Her statements were echoed by many organizations in the reproductive rights movement. Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, told reporters “The prevention of unwanted pregnancy, particularly in adolescents, should not be obstructed by politicians… President Obama should practice what he preaches.” Ilyse Hogue of NARAL Pro-Choice America said in a statement, “Unfortunately, today’s appeal reminds us that sometimes our leaders are out of step with the reality women face every day. We can only assume that HHS is signaling that they are satisfied with the status quo. That’s simply unacceptable.” Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, said “The decision to appeal and continue to put unnecessary, and for too many difficult, obstacles for obtaining Plan B flies in the face of medical and scientific evidence. We argue that IDs suppress the vote, this ID regulation blocks access to a desperately needed health care product and could even cost young girls and women their lives.”
Many others were also outraged over the new guidelines. Jessica González-Rojas, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice, said “Immigrant women and aspiring citizens of all ages have been hit particularly hard, since they are less likely to have government-issued identification… It’s disappointing that the FDA decided to undermine the recent court victory for immigrant women and young Latinas by introducing more unnecessary obstacles to emergency contraception, which is safe and necessary.”
Cythina Pearson, Executive Director of the National Women’s Health Network, told Feminist Majority Foundation, “I’m disappointed that our government is still not treating women with the respect we deserve… A federal judge ordered the administration to drop the politics and do the right thing – remove the age limit on EC… But women will still have to show ID to the cashier. That’s just plain unfair – and it will create a barrier for many women of all ages, who don’t have government-issued ID.”
“This is a disappointing step by the Administration because it still doesn’t lift the barriers to access of emergency contraception to all who need it,” Dr. Susan Wood, former FDA Assistant Commissioner for Women’s Health, told Feminist Majority Foundation. “This action once again disregards the medical and scientific evidence, and leaves barriers to women who will still have to produce an ID to purchase Plan B. Unfortunately this means that this will go back to the courts to resolve the issue.”