Department of Justice blocks increased access to emergency contraception

The Department of Justice has made the decision to appeal a ruling by a federal judge to remove age restrictions regarding access to Plan B emergency contraception. In April, U.S. District Judge Edward Korman had ruled that there should be no age limit or need for a doctor’s prescription for emergency contraception, whether it is Plan B or its generic equivalent. In his decision, Judge Korman addressed the fact that all over the counter medications must adhere to the same standards; one cannot be treated differently than the others. To do so imposes a personal moral code on certain drugs and not others: “The standards are the same for aspirin and for contraceptives. The standard for determining whether contraceptives or any other drug should be available over-the-counter turns solely on the ability of the consumer to understand how to use the particular drug ‘safely and correctly'”(US News).

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which had 30 days to respond to the judge’s ruling, weighed in earlier this week, agreeing to lower the age restriction from 17 to 15, a decision which still seems to violate the standard applied to over the counter medication. The Obama administration then went a step further yesterday by appealing Judge Korman’s decision. The Justice Department’s appeal states that the court should not be able to overturn the rules and processes that federal agencies follow “by instead mandating a particular substantive outcome” (CBS News).

Plan B was first approved by prescription in 1999. In 2006 the prescription requirement was lifted, and it became available over the counter to women age 18 and older. In 2009 Judge Korman ordered that the age restriction be lowered to 17. After making that decision, he had hoped that the FDA would take the lead in removing the age restriction altogether: “It was my view that the decision whether to make Plan B available without a prescription regardless of age was one that should be made by the FDA … not by a federal district judge” (US News). Yet that did not happen, and Korman was again put in the position of having to rule on this issue.

This is just another example of politicizing women’s health issues. Certainly the Department of Justice cannot use safety as an argument, as a young girl experiencing an unwanted pregnancy would be in much more physical danger than would a young girl taking an oral contraceptive to prevent that pregnancy. And members of the administration appear guilty of violating the same standard that they are accusing Judge Korman of violating by involving themselves in this decision–trying to overturn the rules and processes that federal agencies follow. The bottom line is that women suffer when decisions are made by those who represent them in government based upon those representatives’ sense of morality rather than what is best for women’s health. Perhaps it is time to tell that to the Department of Justice.

Diane DeBella

As a writer, teacher, and speaker Diane has spent over twenty years examining women’s issues. She is the author of the collective memoir *I Am Subject: Sharing Our Truths to Reclaim Our Selves*, and editor of the anthology *I Am Subject Stories: Women Awakening*. As a long-time faculty member at the University of Colorado, she received the CU Women Who Make a Difference Award and the CU-LEAD Alliance Faculty Appreciation Award. Through her organization I Am Subject, Diane helps us understand how we—as women—are impacted by the society in which we live. By claiming ourselves as subjects of our own lives, we become empowered and also provide strong role models for other women and girls. In healing ourselves we help others—a beautiful way for women to create nurturing, supportive communities.

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