After losing in the courts, and fighting a battle they weren't eager to win, Obama administration attorneys wisely decided last night to throw in the towel on emergency contraception.
The Obama administration has decided to stop trying to block over-the-counter availability of the best-known morning-after contraceptive pill for all women and girls, a move fraught with political repercussions for President Obama.The government's decision means that any woman or girl will soon be able to walk into a drugstore and buy the pill, Plan B One-Step, without a prescription.
To recap the story we discussed last month, let's pause to appreciate how we reached this point. In December 2011, the administration overruled the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research and said the morning-after pill would not be available over the counter to anyone under the age of 17. The motivations behind the move appeared entirely political -- the administration clearly hoped to avoid a culture-war fight on minors and contraception less than a year before the presidential election.
Two months ago, a federal court forcefully rejected the administration's position, calling it "arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable." The ruling added that the 2011 policy was "politically motivated, scientifically unjustified, and contrary to agency precedent" -- all of which happened to be true.
The administration felt compelled to see the process through, so it appealed the ruling. But in recent weeks, the Justice Department came to realize it was likely to lose again, and the administration would have to make morning-after contraception available over the counter anyway while the legal process unfolded. So, it gave up.
Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards called it "a huge breakthrough for access to birth control and a historic moment for women's health and equity."
And just to be clear, in the real world, we're talking about a major shift in public policy that's likely to reduce unwanted pregnancies. Plan B will now be available, without a prescription, without age limits, and without ID, to anyone who wants to buy it. It will simply be on drugstore shelves, just like other common consumer products.
It's good news, and it's long overdue.