Hindrances to women's sexual health abound from state to state. Lengthy and expensive arguments over abortion and women's contraception seem par for the course in politics today, with the crux of many a conservative leader's campaign strategy revolving around eradicating Planned Parenthood.
But amid the debates over morality and choice, there stood yesterday, one small victory. A federal judge ordered that Plan B One-Step, otherwise known as emergency contraception, must be made available over-the-counter, to all ages, without a prescription, or any other restrictions, starting within the next 30 days.
The FDA still has the option of appealing that ruling, though whether or not they will is up for debate.
At a public news conference, Dr. Cora Collette Breuner, a pediatrician at Seattle Children's Hospital, declared that the judge's ruling to make emergency contraception more readily available made her proud "as a woman and as a doctor and as a mother of three children.”
She added, "This statement and this ruling are long overdue and especially welcome by all of us at the American Academy of Pediatrics."
According to The New York Times, Plan B One-Step had been available to women under the age of 17 through prescription only.
Users above the age requirement could purchase it without a prescription, but the contraception is still kept behind the pharmacist's counter, where an ID is required to obtain it.
In some states, like Washington and Illinois, pharmacists have been allowed to use religious objections as a reason to refuse Plan B One-Step to any customer, at any time.
But this latest ruling, should it go unappealed by the FDA, would mean that those who stand behind the pharmacy counter would no longer be the gatekeepers of morning-after contraception.
Boxes of it could be freed from the confines of the pharmacy and released to their new home, presumably on a shelf to be sold just like toothpaste and shampoo.
In her public statement, Annie Tummino, lead plaintiff in the case, and the coordinator of National Women's Liberation, said that's been her aim all along: "The morning-after pill should be available to females of all ages, on the shelf at any convenience store, just like aspirin or condoms. Women and girls should have the absolute right to control our bodies without having to ask a doctor or a pharmacist for permission."
Surprisingly, in 2011 the FDA itself had also recommended that Plan B One-Step be sold without a prescription or other restrictions. The agency determined after a ten-month review that the drug was safe, even for younger users.
But that decision was shot down at the time by Health and Human Services Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, for what many are calling a thinly-veiled political maneuver to secure President Obama's reelection in 2012.
In fact, Judge Edward R. Korman, who rendered this week's ruling, called Sebelius' past objection to Plan B, "arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable."
Though the FDA could still appeal Judge Korman's ruling, proponents seem hopeful that won't be the case in light of the agency's previous determination that the product is safe.
That means in 30 days time, the U.S. could finally join 63 other nations who offer emergency contraception without a prescription, including the United Kingdom, France, Denmark and Ghana.
Are you hopeful that emergency contraception will make it the pharmacy aisles, or do you expect that it will face further opposition? Let us know in the Comments.