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FDA accused of contempt of court regarding morning-after pill

By Rob Stein

A reproductive rights group charged the Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday with being in contempt of court for failing to respond to a judge's order to reconsider restrictions on the controversial morning-after pill Plan B.

The Center for Reproductive Rights in New York filed a motion in U.S. District Court in New York asking to find the FDA in contempt for failing to make Plan B available to women of all ages without a prescription.

On March 23, 2009, U.S. District Court Judge Edward Korman ordered the FDA to reconsider its 2006 decision to only allow women ages 18 and older to buy Plan B without a prescription. Korman instructed the agency to make Plan B available to 17-year-olds within 30 days and to review whether to make the emergency contraceptive available to all ages without a doctor's order.

In his 52-page decision, Korman repeatedly criticized the FDA's handling of the issue, agreeing with allegations in a lawsuit that the decision was "arbitrary and capricious" and influenced by "political and ideological" considerations imposed by the Bush administration.

Packaging for Plan B (Levonorgestrel) emergency contraceptive pill.

In April 2009, the FDA said it would allow sale of Plan B without a prescription to all women 17 and older. But the agency said it would not make it available to younger women unless it received a request to do so from the company.

Plan B consists of higher doses of a hormone found in many standard birth-control pills. Taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, it has been shown to be highly effective at preventing pregnancy. But the medication has long been controversial. Some anti-abortion activists argue that the drug can cause the equivalent of an abortion in some cases by making the womb inhospitable to an embryo -- a claim disputed by many medical experts and reproductive rights activists.

FDA spokeswoman Karen Riley reiterated the agency's position that "the best way for the agency to comply with the court's order is to review a supplemental drug application expected to be submitted by" Plan B's manufacturer.

By Rob Stein  | November 16, 2010; 11:35 AM ET
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