WASHINGTON - The morning-after pill might become as easy to buy as aspirin.
In a scathing rebuke accusing the Obama administration of letting election-year politics trump science, a federal judge ruled Friday that there should be no age restrictions on the sale of emergency contraception without a doctor's prescription.
Today, buyers must prove at the pharmacy that they're 17 or older; everyone else must see a doctor first. U.S. District Judge Edward Korman of New York blasted the government's decision on age limits as "arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable," and ordered an end to the restrictions within 30 days.
The Justice Department was evaluating whether to appeal, and spokeswoman Allison Price said there would be a prompt decision.
President Barack Obama had supported the 2011 decision setting age limits, and White House spokesman Jay Carney said Friday the president hasn't changed his position. "He believes it was the right common-sense approach to this issue," Carney said.
If the court order stands, Plan B One-Step and its generic versions could move from behind pharmacy counters out to drugstore shelves - ending a decade-plus struggle by women's groups for easier access to these pills, which can prevent pregnancy if taken soon enough after unprotected sex.
Saying the sales restrictions can make it hard for women of any age to buy the pills, Korman described the administration's decision, in the year before the 2012 presidential and congressional elections, as "politically motivated, scientifically unjustified and contrary to agency precedent."
Women's health specialists hailed the ruling.
"It has been clear for a long time that the medical and scientific community think this should be fully over the counter and is safe for women of all ages to use," said Dr. Susan Wood, who resigned as FDA's women's health chief in 2005 to protest Bush administration foot-dragging over Plan B.
Half the nation's pregnancies every year are unintended. Doctors' groups say more access to morning-after pills - by putting them near the condoms and spermicides so people can learn about them and buy them quickly - could cut those numbers. They see little risk in overuse, as the pills cost $40 to $50 apiece.