A federal judge has ordered the Food and Drug Administration to make the morning-after pill available to teens without a prescription, according to news reports.
The ruling weighs in on the controversial issue of access to the morning-after pill, also called emergency contraception, which can prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex if taken within 72 hours.
Currently, the pill is available to women ages 17 and older without a prescription (over-the-counter), but those under 17 require a prescription.
In 2011, the FDA was set to recommend that the drug be made available to teens without a prescription, but it was overruled by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The HHS was criticized for the move, with some calling it a political decision, rather than one based on science.
A lawsuit was filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights against the HHS and FDA challenging the age restriction.
In today's court ruling, judge Edward R. Korman of the Federal District Court, said that generic and brand-name versions of the morning-after pill (Plan B One-Step), should be made available to women of any age within 30 days, according to the New York Times.
However, it's not clear if the FDA will appeal the decision, the New York Times says.
The drug mainly prevents pregnancy by preventing an egg from being released by the ovary, Dr. Christopher Estes, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, told MyHealthNewsDaily in a 2011 interview.
It "will not disrupt or affect an existing pregnancy," according to Teva Pharmaceuticals, the drug's maker. Nor does it interfere with the implantation of a fertilized egg, Estes said.
In its 2011 decision, the HHS said that more research was needed to show that young girls, including those as young as 11 years old, could understand how to use the drug appropriately.
Others have argued that, because the pill needs to be taken within 72 hours, requiring a prescription for the drug is impractical.
"Most teens use condoms as their main form of birth control, which isn't very effective if they don't use them consistently or the condom breaks. They need access in a timely manner to an alternative form of birth control," Tracey Wilkinson, a pediatrician and fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health, told Huffington Post.
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