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Editorial: Reasoned ruling on Plan B

A judge’s ruling last week that women — including teenagers under age 17 — should be able to buy morning-after contraception without a prescription was a clear-eyed decision on an issue that has for years been ensnared in politics.

The ruling, by U.S. District Judge Edward Korman of New York, essentially means that Plan B One-Step and its generic equivalents, should be sold over-the-counter just as spermicides and condoms are now. Under the current arrangement, emergency contraception is available without prescription only to women who can prove that they’re 17 or older; anyone else must see a doctor first.

That arrangement was put into place by the Obama administration in 2011. At the time, Obama said the restrictions were simply common sense.

Critics suggested, though, that the move was mostly a way to placate social conservatives going into the 2012 campaign.

In his decision, Korman — a Republican judge appointed by President Ronald Reagan — called the age limits exactly what they were: “arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable.”

Moreover, once the federal government’s Food and Drug Administration determined — years ago — that the drug was medically safe and effective, Korman argued, efforts to restrict access to it were “politically motivated, scientifically unjustified and contrary to agency precedent.”

The Obama administration can appeal the judge’s decision, but in our view that would be a misguided effort.

This lawsuit has already dragged on for eight years — and the controversy surrounding Plan B has been belabored longer than that.

That’s because the availability of Plan B, which can prevent pregnancy if taken within 72 hours after unprotected sex, is seen by some as undermining parental involvement in their daughters’ lives and as promoting teenage sex and abortion.

On the abortion issue, we will defer to researchers at the Mayo Clinic and other medical experts who have largely discredited the argument that morning-after medications can prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus. Taking Plan B will not affect a pregnancy that has already started.

Around the country, legislatures are tightening access to abortion, making it nearly impossible for women in some states to obtain a medical procedure that is lawful. Reduced access to abortion, which is what a growing number of Americans seem to want, should mean more — not less — support for emergency contraception aimed at preventing unwanted pregnancies.

It’s been estimated that half of the pregnancies in this country every year are unintended.

Preventing unwanted pregnancies is an ongoing challenge, as it has been for decades, that requires a comprehensive approach — education, parenting, decent medical care, mentoring, peer support — in short, the whole village.

The morning-after pill is one part of that picture.

As its name implies, it is a fallback to be used in emergency situations; to be an effective fallback it needs to be readily, easily accessible, not obscured behind barriers and hurdles. Judge Korman’s ruling clears the way for that to happen.

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