A federal judge in Brooklyn sharply criticized the Obama administration for limiting young women's access to morning-after contraceptive pills as government lawyers Tuesday asked him to extend a stay on his decision last month invalidating restrictions.
U.S. District Judge Edward Korman said that at the same time the government appealed his April decision, the Food and Drug Administration adopted new rules that appear to make the pill more available but will in fact increase its cost and require photo IDs that many poor women don't have. "You're basically disadvantaging poor people, young people and African-Americans," he said to Justice Department lawyer Franklin Amanat. "That's the policy of the Obama administration."
Korman ruled in April that the emergency contraceptive should be available to women of all ages over the counter, striking down FDA regulations requiring those under 17 to have a prescription and allowing those over 17 to buy the pill at a pharmacy only after showing ID.
He said those limits were the result of politics, not based on considerations of safety and effectiveness. But he stayed his decision until Friday. On May 1, the FDA announced it would appeal. The hearing Tuesday was to determine if Korman would continue to delay his order during the appeal.
On April 30, the administration announced a compromise on the decade-old, politically charged issue, with the FDA agreeing to make Teva Pharmaceuticals' Plan B One-Step pill available over the counter to girls as young as 15 who show proof of age. But Korman derided that plan as a "charade."
The judge, raising his voice during the two-hour hearing, said that imposing an age limit meant stores must require photo IDs, contradicting the Justice Department's claim in voting rights cases that ID requirements are a tool to suppress minority voting.
"If it's an impediment to voting, it's an impediment to getting a drug," Korman said. He also said Teva's product costs $60 per pill, which would be too costly for young girls, compared with $35 for generics, which still face restrictions.
"There is no legal basis . . . to assert that consumers ought to be able to buy the product they want at the price they want," said Amanat, who urged Korman to stay his ruling because it is likely to be overturned on appeal. Korman said he didn't agree, and promised to rule by Friday. If he refuses a stay, the government can seek one from the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.