A federal judge, who ordered last month that the Plan B emergency contraceptive pill be made available to young teens and girls without a doctor's prescription, denied on Friday the Obama administration's request to temporarily halt the order, calling the bid "frivolous" and politically motivated.
"In my view, the defendants' appeal is frivolous and taken for the purposes of delay," U.S. District Judge Edward Korman for the Eastern District of New York wrote in his 17-page opinion.
Korman also said the government has until Monday to ask a federal appeals court in Manhattan to delay compliance pending its appeal, according to Reuters.
While women were required to prove at the pharmacy they are 17 or older to be able to buy the morning-after pill, Korman ordered the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on April 5 to permit women of any age to buy emergency contraception without a doctor's prescription.
Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which filed the lawsuit against the administration, called Friday's ruling "sound."
"In a country where nearly half of all pregnancies are unintended, there is a tremendous public interest in expanding access to safe and effective birth control methods, including emergency contraception, to as many women as possible," Northup said in a statement posted on the group's website. "Judge Korman's sound ruling simply orders the government to do what the experts at FDA have been trying to do for years: to put politics aside and let science guide us to a policy that makes emergency contraception readily accessible to all women when they need it most urgently."
At a recent press conference in Mexico City with Mexican President Pena Nieto, President Obama said he is "comfortable" with the FDA's decision to allow over-the-counter access of morning-after pills to girls 15 and older. "I'm very comfortable with the decision they've made right now based on solid scientific evidence for girls 15 and older," he said.
Obama, however, added that he did not make the decision. "This is a decision made by the FDA and the secretary of Health and Human Services. It's not my decision to make. The first time around where there were no age restrictions, Secretary [Kathleen] Sebelius expressed concerns and I supported those concerns and I gave voice to them," he said.
The president also said he supports contraceptives because he believes it is up to women to decide when they are ready to reproduce. "I'm very supportive of contraception because I think it's very important that women have control over their health care choices and when they are starting a family," he said. "That's their decision to make and so we want to make sure they have access to contraception."
Obama had earlier supported a 2011 decision by Sebelius setting age limits for Plan B One-Step and its generic versions, which can prevent pregnancy if taken soon enough after unprotected sex. The president supported Sebelius, saying she acted because she wasn't sure that an 11-year-old "should be able, alongside bubble gum or batteries…to buy a medication that potentially, if not used properly, could end up having an adverse effect."
Planned Parenthood wants the Obama administration to expand access to the morning-after pill.
"Studies show that emergency contraception is a safe and effective form of birth control that can prevent pregnancy if taken within five days of unprotected sex, and research also shows that teens are as likely as adults to use emergency contraception correctly," Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told CNN in a recent report. "Age barriers to emergency contraception are not supported by science, and they should be eliminated."
However, Anna Higgins, director of the Center for Human Dignity at Family Research Council, believes the FDA approval is irresponsible and dangerous.
"Teenagers under the age of 17 cannot even be admitted to an R–rated movie and schools are required to obtain a parent's permission to administer any type of medication to a child or teen, for good reason," Higgins said. "The new Plan B decisions, made without regard to parental or medical concern, will only serve to endanger the health and safety of children."
About 19.7 million new sexually transmitted infections were reported in 2008, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Based on the CDC's estimates, that brings the total number of STIs in the country to just over 110 million, and most of the new cases crop up in young men and women aged between 15 and 25.