CNN) — A federal judge in Brooklyn has ordered the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to make the morning-after birth control pill available over the counter to people of any age without a prescription.
This order overturned a 2011 decision by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to require a prescription for girls under 17 years old.
The FDA said it couldn’t comment because it is an ongoing legal mater.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommended last year that oral contraceptives be sold over the counter without a prescription in an effort to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies in the United States. Opponents of prescription requirements say prescriptions can delay access to the drug.
Friday’s judicial order came in response to a lawsuit launched by the Center for Reproductive Rights. The group was seeking to expand access to all brands of the morning-after pill over the counter, such as Plan B One-Step and Next Choice, so that women of all ages would be able to purchase them without a prescription.
“Today science has finally prevailed over politics,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO for the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. “This landmark court decision has struck a huge blow to the deep-seated discrimination that has for too long denied women access to a full range of safe and effective birth control methods.”
The Family Research Council expressed concerns about the order.
“There is a real danger that Plan B may be given to young girls, under coercion or without their consent. The involvement of parents and medical professionals act as a safeguard for these young girls. However, today’s ruling removes these commonsense protections,” Anna Higgins, director of the organization’s Center for Human Dignity, said in a statement.
The FDA approved Plan B in 1999. The key ingredient in Plan B is a synthetic hormone called levonorgestrel.
This drug stops an egg from being released from the ovary, and may also hamper the sperm and egg from fertilizing. If there has been fertilization, Plan B may prevent a fertilized egg from embedding in the uterus. But if the egg has already been implanted in the uterus, the morning after pill will not work.
Emergency contraceptives are intended for use within 72 hours after sex, but are most effective if taken within 24 hours.
Many developed countries require a prescription for oral contraceptives, including Canada and most of Europe, but many other countries sell the pill without a prescription even formally or informally.
A 2012 study in the journal Pediatrics found that there is misinformation about emergency contraception, including about what age women can obtain it without a prescription, and who can take it in general.
There is another type of emergency contraception on the market: The Copper T IUD. A doctor inserts this device into the uterus within seven days of when unprotected sex occurs, and it is 99% effective at pregnancy prevention, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.