President Obama on Thursday said he is "very comfortable" with a new rule issued by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that would allow women ages 15 and older to buy the emergency contraceptive known as Plan B without a prescription.
"The rule that's been put forward by the FDA, [Health] Secretary [Kathleen] Sebelius has reviewed, she's comfortable with it — I'm comfortable with it," Obama said at a press conference in Mexico City.
Obama said he understood that there was "solid scientific evidence" that the contraception was safe for girls of that age.
"I think it's very important that women have control over their healthcare choices and when they are starting a family," Obama said.
The president also defended the Justice Department's decision, announced late Wednesday, to appeal a federal court ruling that made the pill available to girls of all ages without a prescription. Obama maintained that both the appeal and the FDA rule were decisions made without the involvement of the White House.
The president also left open the possibility that the FDA could revisit the Plan B rule and create over-the-counter access for girls under 15.
"My suspicion is that the FDA may now be called upon to make further
decisions about whether there’s sufficient scientific evidence for girls
younger than 15," Obama said. "That’s the FDA’s decision to make.
That’s Secretary Sebelius’s decision to review."
The Justice Department's move angered some women's rights activists, who say the drug should be available over the counter to women of all ages. But the president said the Justice Department's appeal was solely related to legal issues.
"Part of it has to do with the precedent and the way the judge handled that case," Obama said.
Plan B works to prevent pregnancy in the days after unprotected sex by stopping ovulation and inhibiting the movement of sperm. Critics have dubbed it the "morning-after pill."
Many social conservatives oppose the drug because some studies suggest it could inhibit a fertilized egg from implanting to the womb. Abortion-rights opponents consider that outcome equal to abortion.
In 2011, Obama said that he supported a decision by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen SebeliusKathleen Sebelius65 former governors, mayors back bipartisan infrastructure deal Fauci: 'Horrifying' to hear CPAC crowd cheering anti-vaccination remarks The Memo: Biden and Democrats face dilemma on vaccine mandates MORE to limit over-the-counter access to Plan B to girls ages 17 and older.
Obama at the time said he was concerned children would be able to buy the drug "alongside bubble gum or batteries."
As the president made a broader defense of opening access to contraception, he also made reference to a controversy last year about a requirement in the Affordable Care Act that mandated employer healthcare plans offer free birth control.
Some religious institutions, including Catholic hospitals and universities, have argued the requirement violates religious liberty. The White House has said the government has created accommodations for certain religious employers.
"We had a little bit of fuss around what we're doing with the Affordable Care Act ... but I very much think that's the right thing to do," Obama said.
—This story was updated at 6:56 p.m.
Elise Viebeck contributed.