MIAMI — By this summer, a 15-year-old girl will be able to walk into a drugstore, scan the shelves and purchase the morning-after pill without a prescription, a controversial national decision at the intersection of women’s reproductive rights, parenting, sciences and the role and reach of government.
On Tuesday the Food and Drug Administration ordered retailers to offer the emergency contraceptive Plan B One-Step as an over-the-counter option — the latest ruling in a long battle, both legal and social, about the rights of women to have access to the drug. Before now, the pill, which is used after sexual intercourse to help prevent pregnancy, was available to women ages 17 and older without a prescription, but the medication was kept behind drugstore counters.
The FDA’s decision came weeks after a federal judge ordered that over-the-counter emergency contraception be made available to females of any age — a ruling the Obama administration is appealing.
Even with many practical questions still unanswered and the specter of more court rulings looming, reaction has been passionate on both sides of the issue.
“This is a … policy issue that basically represents people’s core beliefs,” says Nicole Ruggiano, an assistant professor of social work at Florida International University’s Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work. “This is about people’s beliefs about premarital sex, parenting, religion, right to life and those kinds of issues.”
President Barack Obama, visiting Mexico, said Thursday he was “comfortable” with the FDA’s decision.
For some, this is a victory long in the making, empowering young sexually active women. Opponents, including those with strong religious beliefs, contend the decision is wrong, that 15-year-olds are too young.