The Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday that it would make the most widely known morning-after pill available without a prescription to girls and women ages 15 and older and also make the pill available on drugstore shelves, instead of keeping it locked up behind pharmacy counters.
Until this decision, the pill, Plan B One-Step, which helps prevent pregnancy after sexual intercourse, was available without a prescription only for ages 17 and older.
The F.D.A.’s decision did not address a federal judge’s ruling in early April that gave the F.D.A. 30 days to make the pill available for all ages without a prescription. In a scathing opinion handed down three weeks ago, Judge Edward R. Korman in the Eastern District of New York said the Obama administration had put politics before science in restricting access to the drug.
The F.D.A. and the White House said Tuesday that the Department of Justice was still deciding whether to appeal the ruling, something it can do independently of the F.D.A.’s decision on Tuesday.
The agency’s move — which takes effect immediately — represents a compromise in the politically charged arena of emergency contraception, an issue that has pitted conservative and anti-abortion groups against advocates for women’s health and reproductive rights.
The Justice Department is probably weighing not only the substance of the judge’s ruling, but also the precedent it would set in countermanding an order by a White House cabinet member, the secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius. In 2011, she decided that the pill would be available only to those 17 and older, despite a decision by the F.D.A. to offer it without any age restrictions. She said the pill had not been studied for safety in girls as young as 11 years old.