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USA TODAY- A federal judge in New York , slamming the government over footdragging and administrative "filibuster," has ordered theFood and Drug Administration to make the "morning-after" pill available without prescription to girls of all ages within one month.

The ruling overturns a decision in 2011 by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that barred over-the-counter sales of the controversial pill to girls under 17. Sebelius' decision itself had overruled an FDA recommendation to widen availability

The pill, popularly known as "Plan B," typically works up to 72 hours after intercourse, and is distinct from the so-called "abortion pill."

U.S. District Judge Edward Korman, of Brooklyn, said his order must be carried out within a month.

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, hailed the ruling as "a significant and long-overdue step forward for women's health that will benefit women of all ages."

"When a woman fears she might become pregnant after her contraceptive has failed or she has had unprotected sex, she needs fast access to emergency contraception, not delays at the pharmacy counter," Richads said in a statement. "Lifting these restrictions will allow emergency contraception to be stocked on store shelves, making it more accessible to everyone."

There was no immediate comment from HHS. F. Franklin Amanat, a lawyer for the government, said the Department of Justice has no immediate comment.

"We are reviewing the decision and evaluating the government's options," he said.

The judge said the case isn't about t the potential misuse of the so-called morning-after pill by 11-year-olds. He said the contraceptives would be among the safest drugs sold over the counter. He said the number of 11-year-olds likely to use the drugs was minuscule.

In his 59-page ruling, Korman said that Sebelius, in overruling the FDA, had forced the agency to "to ride roughshod over the policies and practices that it has consistently applied in considering applications for switches in drug status to over-the-counter availability."

Korman, who was appointed to the court by President Reagan in 1985, also noted that the FDA itself had engaged in its own footdragging over the years, dating from the Bush administration, when the plaintiffs first began trying to get it to rule on Plan B more than 12 years ago.

"The FDA has engaged in intolerable delays in processing the petition," he wrote. "Indeed, it could accurately be described as an administrative agency filibuster."

He was particularly caustic regarding the FDA's call for public comment on whether it needed to engage in rulemaking in order to adopt an age-restricting marketing regime.

"After eating up eleven months, 47,000 public comments, and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars," Korman wrote. "It decided that it did not need rulemaking after all. The plaintiffs should not be forced to endure, nor should the agency's misconduct be rewarded by, an exercise that permits the FDA to engage in further delay and obstruction."

Last year, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommended that oral contraceptives be sold over the counter without a prescription to help lower the nation's high unintended pregnancy rate.

Morning-after pills do not end a pregnancy that has implanted, according to the Mayo Clinic, and should not be confused with abortion pills.

The clinic says morning-after pills, which have been widely available in Europe and Latin America for several years, can prevent pregnancy "because conception typically doesn't occur immediately after sex."

According to the Mayor Clinic:

"Pregnancy may happen up to several days later. During the time between sex and conception, sperm travel through the fallopian tubes until they potentially reach an egg. Depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle, morning-after pills may act by one or more of the following actions: delaying or preventing ovulation, blocking fertilization, or keeping a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus."

Korman, who also worked in the solicitor generals' office during the NIxon administration, served 22 years on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, including a role as chief judge. He is currently serving in a "senior status," which amounts to semi-retirement.

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