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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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April 5th, 2013
06:58 PM ET

Judge strikes down age limits on "morning-after" pill

For some, it's about time. For others, it's an outrage. A federal judge in New York has ruled that every woman and girl - regardless of her age - should have access to the so-called "morning-after" pill without a prescription.

And in the case of minors, without the consent of a parent.

The federal judge said it was "arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable" to deny over-the-counter access to emergency contraception for girls under the age of 17. The drug, called Plan B, does not terminate pregnancy like RU-486, commonly called "the abortion pill." Instead, it is meant to prevent pregnancy by using a higher dosage of birth control taken within three days of unprotected sex.

Yet, the emotional debate over access to the "morning-after" pill, or Plan B, stretches back almost a decade, when the Bush administration refused to allow women of any age to obtain it over the counter.

But in 2006, the Food and Drug Administration eventually ordered Plan B to be made readily available to women 18 years and older.

Shortly after Obama became president, it was lowered to 17 and older.

That wasn't enough for the Center for Reproductive Rights – a group that has argued for years that the drug should be widely available to all women. So they pursued the case further.

And the FDA agreed.

In December 2011, Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said in a statement that Plan B "is safe and effective and should be approved for nonprescription use for all females of child-bearing potential."

On the very same day in an unprecedented move, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled her - keeping the age limit at 17. Heading into campaign season, President Obama agreed.

"The reason Kathleen made this decision was, she could not be confident that a 10-year-old or an 11-year-old going to a drug store should be able, along side bubble gum or batteries, to be able to buy a medication that potentially, if not used properly, could end up having an adverse effect," said Obama in December 2011.

Now, 16 months later, Federal District Court Judge Edward Korman called Sebelius's decision "politically motivated." He ordered the FDA to remove the age limits and make the drug available to all Americans in the next 30 days.

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