Fight over morning-after pill is risky for Obama

Posted Saturday, Apr. 06, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama supports requiring girls younger than 17 to see a doctor before buying the morning-after pill. But fighting that battle in court has its own set of risks.

A federal judge in New York ordered the Food and Drug Administration on Friday to lift age restrictions on the sale of emergency contraception, ending the requirement that buyers show proof that they're 17 or older if they want to buy it without a prescription.

The ruling accused the Obama administration of letting the president's re-election cloud its judgment when it set the age limits in 2011.

"The motivation for the secretary's action was obviously political," U.S. District Judge Edward Korman wrote, referring to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who made the 2011 decision.

The FDA had been poised to allow over-the-counter sales with no age limits when Sebelius took the unprecedented step of overruling the agency.

If the Obama administration appeals Korman's ruling, it could restart the battle over women's reproductive health, which is never far away in American politics.

An appeal could also sidetrack the president just as he's trying to keep Congress and the public focused on gun control, immigration and the budget.

"There's no political advantage whatsoever," Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf said. "It's a side issue he doesn't need to deal with right now. The best idea is to leave it alone."

Still, Obama has made clear that he feels strongly about the limits.

It's hard to see the downside in sticking by his principles, given that he can never serve as president again.

"As the father of two daughters, I think it is important for us to make sure that we apply some common sense to various rules when it comes to over-the-counter medicine," Obama said in 2011 when he endorsed Sebelius' decision.

The Justice Department said it is evaluating whether to appeal.

A spokeswoman expects a prompt decision.

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