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Court OKs Non-Prescription Sale of Certain 'Morning-After' Pills

WEDNESDAY, June 5 (HealthDay News) -- In the latest chapter of the legal wrangle over the non-prescription sale of "morning-after" pills, a New York appeals court on Wednesday ruled that some forms of the emergency contraception could be sold over-the-counter while the issue winds its way through the courts.

According to The Associated Press, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan ruled that two-pill versions of emergency contraception can be sold without a prescription or a restriction as to the buyer's age while the court mulls the validity of a U.S. government appeal.

However, a prior ruling by Brooklyn Judge Edward Korman that one-pill products -- including Plan B -- also could be sold without restrictions has now been suspended by the Manhattan court, the AP reported.

That suspension will stay in effect until the appeals court rules on the merits of the case later this year.

Korman issued his order April 5, igniting a battle over whether young girls could gain access to emergency contraception without a prescription. Soon after, on April 30, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration lowered to 15 the age at which people could purchase the Plan B One-Step pill over-the-counter -- two years younger than the prior age limit of 17.

A day later, on May 1, the Obama Administration stepped in to appeal the Korman decision. It is that appeal that is now working its way through the courts.

At the time of the FDA's move to lower the age limit, agency commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg said in a news release that, "research has shown that access to emergency contraceptive products has the potential to further decrease the rate of unintended pregnancies in the United States."

"The data reviewed by the agency demonstrated that women 15 years of age and older were able to understand how Plan B One-Step works, how to use it properly and that it does not prevent the transmission of a sexually transmitted disease," Hamburg said.

Plan B prevents implantation of a fertilized egg in a woman's uterus through the use of levonorgestrel, a synthetic form of the hormone progesterone used for decades in birth control pills. Plan B contains 1.5 milligrams of levonorgestrel, more than the pill contains. It is considered a form of birth control, not abortion.

Other brands of emergency contraception include Next Choice and Ella.

Planned Parenthood has long pushed for wider access to emergency contraception, with the group's president, Cecile Richards, calling it "an important step forward."

But conservative groups have objected to the move. In April, Janice Shaw Crouse, director of the Beverly LaHaye Institute, the think tank for the conservative women's group Concerned Women for America, called Korman's ruling "a political decision, made by those who stand to profit financially from an action that puts ideology ahead of the nation's girls and young women."

More information

There's more on emergency contraception at the World Health Organization.

-- E.J. Mundell

SOURCES: Janice Shaw Crouse, Ph.D., director and senior fellow, Beverly LaHaye Institute, Concerned Women for America; Planned Parenthood Federation of America, statement, April 30, 2013; The Associated Press

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