Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (Pic by US Mission Geneva, via Flickr)

A women’s health advocacy group plans to reopen a legal fight to challenge the federal government’s decision to overrule a request from the FDA to expand access to the morning after pill, also called Plan B, to women under the age of 17.

Since U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced her decision, reproductive health advocates have expressed disappointment and claim that the decision was based on political calculations, and not on scientific research.

The Center for Reproductive Rights has reopened “its 2005 lawsuit against the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for imposing unnecessary age restrictions on emergency contraceptives, and seek immediate relief to allow broader access to available drugs,” a new press release from the group states.

The group has also sought to add “Sebelius as a defendant in the reopened case for her role in overruling the FDA’s approval of Plan B One-Step last week,” according to the press release.

According to the group:

This fight is far from over. We intend to take every legal step necessary to hold the FDA and this administration accountable for its extraordinary actions to block women from safe, effective emergency contraception,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEP for the Center for Reproductive Rights. “It has been ten years of battling to bring emergency contraception out from behind the pharmacy counter. The FDA cannot simply continue moving the goal posts down the field for women’s reproductive health care.”

While U.S. District Court Judge Edward Korman found the contempt motion moot because late last night, the FDA decided to deny the 2001 Citizen Petition to lift age restrictions on emergency contraceptives— two years after the judge had ordered the agency to fairly reconsider the petition— he proceeded to invite the Center to reopen its 2005 lawsuit and agreed that the Center could add Secretary Sebelius as a defendant.

During the hearing, Judge Korman repeatedly noted the striking similarities between recent events —including last night’s denial of the Citizen Petition and Secretary Sebelius’ unprecedented decision to intervene and block the unrestricted sale of the drug—and the findings in 2009 that the FDA under the Bush Administration had “acted in bad faith and in response to political pressure.”

“The FDA has essentially been holding women’s reproductive health hostage to political calculations,” said Suzanne Novak, the senior staff attorney who argued for the Center for Reproductive Rights.

The Washington Post reports today that “Korman said he was willing to hear arguments over whether the agency should have allowed the sale of the morning-after pill to girls younger than 17 without a prescription, and he instructed advocacy groups to file the appropriate legal motions.”

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