NEW YORK - The Obama administration will stop trying to limit sales of emergency contraception pills, making the morning-after-pill available to women of all ages without a prescription.
The US Department of Justice said in a letter on Monday that it planned to comply with a court's ruling to allow unrestricted sales of Plan B One-Step and that it would withdraw its appeal on the matter.
The move is the latest in a lengthy legal fight over the morning-after pill, which was until recently only available without a prescription to women 17 and older who presented proof of age at a pharmacist's counter.
Plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit against the FDA said the limits unfairly kept women and girls from accessing the drug, which is most effective when taken within 72 hours of intercourse.
On April 5, US District Judge Edward Korman said the US Food and Drug Administration had been "arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable" in rejecting a citizen petition to make emergency contraception available over-the-counter to girls of all ages.
Korman ordered the FDA to make emergency contraception available without age and point-of-sale restrictions, but said that the agency could lift restrictions on only the one-pill version of the drug, Plan B One-Step, if the FDA believed there was a significant difference between that and the two-pill version.
The Department of Justice will not seek to lift restrictions on the two-pill Plan B product, which it says is significantly different from the one-pill version.
The FDA in April granted a petition from Plan B One-Step's maker, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, to make the pill available without a prescription to girls as young as 15.
The FDA said it would lift the remaining age restriction on Plan B One-Step once it received the appropriate application from Teva. Teva declined to comment.
Annie Tummino, lead plaintiff and coordinator of the National Women's Liberation, said, "This decision by the administration affirms what feminists have been fighting for all along - the morning-after pill should be available to females of all ages, on the shelf at any convenience store, just like aspirin or condoms."
Plan B has been a political lightning rod. In 2011, after the FDA decided to approve over-the-counter sales with no age limits, US Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius had ordered it to reverse course, barring girls under 17 from buying the pills without a prescription.
President Barack Obama supported that restriction, invoking his daughters. But the timing, 11 months ahead of the presidential election, sparked criticism that he was trying to placate social conservatives.