NEW YORK —
The Food and Drug Administration must make emergency contraceptives available to girls of all ages within 30 days, a federal judge has ruled, saying the agency's decisions regarding the so-called morning-after pill were "arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable."
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Edward Korman came as the result of a lawsuit brought by reproductive-rights advocates, who had sought to remove age and other restrictions on the so-called "morning after" pill.
The Center for Reproductive Rights and other groups have argued that contraceptives are being held to a different and non-scientific standard than other drugs, and that politics has played a role in decision-making. Social conservatives have said the pill is tantamount to abortion.
The morning-after pill currently is available without a prescription only to those 17 and older who can prove their age. Younger teenagers must get a prescription.
In 2011 the Food and Drug Administration had been prepared to lift a controversial age limit and make Plan B One-Step -- the nation's first over-the-counter emergency contraceptive -- available for purchase by people of any age without a prescription.
But in December of that year Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius blocked the move, deciding that young girls shouldn't be able to buy it on their own. Sebelius said that while young girls are physically capable of bearing children, they might not properly understand how to use the emergency contraception without guidance from an adult.
President Barack Obama said at the time he supported Sebelius' decision.
In his ruling Judge Korman said Secretary Sebelius' directive to the FDA to reject Plan B One-Step for OTC sales "forced the agency to ride roughshod over the policies and practices that it has consistently applied in considering applications for switches in drug status to over-the-counter availability."