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 comes with its own set of risks.
A federal judge in New York on Friday ordered the Food and Drug Administration to lift age restrictions on the sale of emergency contraception, ending the requirement that buyers show proof they’re 17 or older if they want to buy it without a prescription.
The ruling accused the Obama administration in no uncertain terms of letting the president’s pending 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 in reference 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 re-ignite the simmering battle over women’s reproductive health, which is never far from the surface in American politics. An appeal also could sidetrack the president just as he’s trying to keep Congress and the public focused on gun control, immigration and resolving the nation’s budget woes.
“There’s no political advantage whatsoever,” said Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf. “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 in the past that he feels strongly about the limits. As a politician whose name won’t ever appear on a ballot again, it’s hard to see the downside in sticking by his principles.
“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.