The morning-after pill, often called Plan B, is used to reduce the chance of pregnancy. It has to be taken within 72 hours of unprotected sexual intercourse. It is most effective if taken within 24 hours.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cleared the drug for sale to all girls. The Secretary of Health and Human Services overruled the F.D.A. in 2011. She said buyers had to be 17 years of age or older to purchase the pill without prescription.
A federal judge has now said girls younger than 17 years of age can buy it. The judge was critical of the Obama administration. He said the secretary’s action was not scientific, but rather political. At the time President Obama was preparing to run for reelection.
Supporters of the new ruling say it is a safe way for younger teenagers to prevent pregnancy. For this age group, pregnancy has more risks than the morning-after pill has.
Opponents say girls should not be able to take the pill without the knowledge and consent of their parents. Sexually active girls may also get sexually transmitted infections and diseases. It would be better for them to see a doctor than take a pill.
The Obama administration has not said whether it will appeal the ruling. Few think it will influence the opposition he faces in the Republican controlled House of Representatives on his programs.
Observers say the larger issue is that the ruling shows that when politics interferes with science, judges will support science.