U.S. government appeals age restriction removal on morning-after-pill

This photo illustration shows a package of Plan B contraceptive on April 5, 2013 in Chicago, Ill.
Photo illustration by Scott Olson/Getty Images

NEW YORK The Obama administration has filed an appeal on Monday to halt the sale of morning after contraceptive pills to anyone without a prescription.

The legal paperwork asked the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan to postpone a federal judge's ruling that eliminated age limits on the pill while the government appeals that overall decision.

U.S. District Court Judge Edward Korman has said that politics was behind efforts by Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius to block the unrestricted sale of the Plan B One-Step morning-after pill and its generic competitors.

Last month, he ordered that the levonorgestrel-based emergency contraceptives be made available without a prescription and without point-of-sale or age restrictions. He then denied a request to postpone his ruling while the government appealed, but gave them until Monday to appeal again.

Korman added during the time the government asked him to hold his ruling that blocking access to morning-after-pills will end up hurting poor people.

Government attorneys warned that "substantial market confusion" could result if Korman's ruling was enforced while appeals are pending. On Monday, lawyers argued that the district court "plainly overstepped its authority," and that they believe they will win the overall appeal.

Attorneys for the Center for Reproductive Rights have said in court papers that every day the ruling is not enforced is "life-altering" to some women. They have 10 days to respond to the most recent government filings, after which the appeals court will issue a decision.

If the government fails, it would clear the way for over-the-counter sales of the morning-after pill to younger girls. The FDA announced earlier this month that Plan B-One Step could be sold without a prescription to those 15 and older, a decision Korman said merely sugarcoated the appeal of his order lifting the age restriction. Women would need valid proof of age to purchase the contraception, which Korman called an "impossible burden" for disadvantaged people without IDs.

"Requiring women to show proper documentation will hinder a very vulnerable group of women from purchasing this crucial medication -- including adolescents and low-income women," Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organization of Women, said in an earlier interview. She called the Obama administration's decision to appeal "a step backwards for women's health."

Sales of Plan B, another morning-after-pill, had previously been limited to those who were at least 17. A different kind named Ella has always required a prescription regardless of age.

Plan B-One Step does not prevent pregnancy if the woman is already pregnant, and no scientific evidence has shown it will harm an existing fetus.

The judge said he ruled against the government "because the secretary's action was politically motivated, scientifically unjustified and contrary to agency precedent" and because there was no basis to deny the request to make the drugs widely available.