The Justice Department said it would stop fighting a court order requiring it to remove all age restrictions on the sale of Plan B One-Step without a prescription.
Obama had previously said he was uncomfortable with removing all age restrictions on the sale of the so-called "morning after pill." He said over a year ago that "as the father of two daughters," he supported his Health secretary's decision to block over-the-counter sales for younger teens. But a federal judge excoriated the administration's defense of age limits on the pill, calling it a nakedly political decision divorced from science.
But late Monday, the Justice Department said in a letter to the judge, Edward R. Korman, that it "is voluntarily withdrawing its appeal in this matter."
The administration's defense of age limits had angered women's health groups, who accused the White House of playing politics with a scientific question.
The Planned Parenthood Federation of America praised the administration's decision Monday.
“This is a huge breakthrough for access to birth control and a historic moment for women’s health and equity," Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards said in a statement. "The FDA’s decision will make emergency contraception available on store shelves, just like condoms, and women of all ages will be able to get it quickly in order to prevent unintended pregnancy."
The decision to stop defending age restrictions in the courts, though, will surely anger anti-abortion rights activists, who see Plan B as a form of abortion.
The Justice Department said Monday that the FDA only intended to remove age restrictions from Plan B One-Step — a one-pill version of the emergency contraceptive. A two-pill form will still carry age restrictions.
Last year, scientists at the FDA recommended making Plan B available without any age restrictions. They were overruled by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
Korman would later say Sebelius's intervention was "politically motivated and that, even without regard to the Secretary’s motives, was so unpersuasive as to call into question her good faith."
Obama, though, had defended Sebelius's actions, saying he was uncomfortable with young girls having easy access to the drug.
Korman ordered the FDA to remove all age restrictions on Plan B One-Step and has routinely hammered Sebelius's intervention as well as the FDA's appeals of his ruling.