WASHINGTON - The government on Tuesday lowered to 15 the age at which girls can buy the morning-after pill without a prescription and said the emergency contraception no longer has to be kept behind pharmacy counters.
The decision by the Food and Drug Administration is an attempt to find middle ground just days before a court-imposed deadline to lift all age restrictions on the drug.
Today, Plan B One-Step is sold behind pharmacy counters, and buyers must prove they're 17 or older to buy it without a prescription. Tuesday's decision lowers the age limit to 15 - and will allow the pill to sit on drugstore shelves next to condoms and spermicides or other women's health products. But customers must prove their age at the cash register.
Teva Women's Health, which makes Plan B, said it would begin over-the-counter sales in a few months.
The question is whether Tuesday's action settles a larger court fight. Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Edward Korman of New York blasted the Obama administration for imposing the age-17 limit, saying it had let election-year politics trump science and was making it hard for women of any age to obtain the emergency contraception in time. He ordered an end to all age restrictions by Monday, for Plan B and its generic versions.
The FDA said Tuesday's decision was independent of the court case and wasn't intended to address it. Technically, the FDA approved Teva's application to sell Plan B in this manner.
The Justice Department remained mum on whether it planned to appeal Korman's decision, and the White House had no immediate comment.
The women's group that sued over the age limits said Tuesday's action is not enough, and it will continue the court fight if necessary.