The administration said in a letter sent Tuesday to U.S. District Judge Edward R. Korman in New York it would drop its appeal of the case and honor the judge's order to make Plan B One-Step contraception pills available to all women and girls without a prescription, The Washington Post reported.
President Obama still personally opposes over-the-counter access to emergency contraceptives for young girls, an administration official told the Post, but the Justice Department decided to drop the case after sustaining several setbacks on the matter in federal courts.
Plan B is classified by the Food and Drug Administration as an emergency contraceptive that greatly reduces the chance of pregnancy if taken within 72 hours of intercourse.
Birth control advocates cheered Monday's decision as a victory for women's rights while opponents criticized it.
"This is a huge breakthrough for access to birth control and a historic moment for women's health and equity," Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood Federation of America president, said in a statement Monday.
The decision "will make emergency contraception available on store shelves, just like condoms, and women of all ages will be able to get it quickly in order to prevent unintended pregnancy," she said.
"Parents all across the country ought to be really, really concerned that we're seeing the Obama administration completely surrender any principle of defending women's health to the politics of big abortion," Americans United for Life President Chairman Yoest said. "There are so many reasons to maintain some measure of control over the distribution of such a strong drug, particularly to young women."
The FDA asked the drug's manufacturer, Teva Branded Pharmaceutical Products, to submit an application to make Plan B One-Step available without restrictions, the Post reported.
"Once FDA receives that supplemental application, the FDA intends to approve it promptly," the agency said.
Teva Pharmaceuticals declined to comment to the Post on the decision and could not say when the pill would be available.
The FDA approved Plan B as a prescription emergency contraceptive in 1999. In 2003, Teva asked the FDA to make the drug available over the counter.
In 2011, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled the FDA, which had found that the drug could be used safely by women of all ages, and rejected the request to sell Plan B without restrictions on supermarket shelves and in drugstores.
Earlier this year, Korman ordered Plan B be made available to women and girls of all ages over the counter. Last week, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to fully delay moving emergency contraceptives over the counter until it ruled on the issue.
The Justice Department said it would not remove restrictions from two-pill emergency contraceptives because of concerns young girls might not adequately understand how to take two separate doses, The New York Times said. Two-pill versions, however, are a shrinking fraction of the market.