The long-running battle over the US Food and Drug Administration’s continued refusal to make the emergency contraceptive Plan B available without a prescription took another turn late last week, after the agency turned down a citizen’s petition seeking to force a switch for the product.

The decision to turn down the petition, filed in 2001 by the Center for Reproductive Rights, comes in the middle of a lawsuit brought against the FDA by the pressure group, which will see former FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan deposed by attorney’s representing the CRR later today. Next month, the Center will question another former FDA official, Dr Susan Wood, the director of the Office of Women's Health, who resigned last August in protest of the agency's handling of Plan B.

The CRR claimed the decision to turn down the petition provides further evidence that the FDA has been influenced by the Bush administration to block the switch on ideological grounds.

Another former FDA Commissioner, Lester Crawford, is facing legal proceedings in a civil court to uncover the truth behind the Plan B application, which has languished at the FDA for more than two years. In December 2003, an FDA Advisory Committee voted 23-4 to approve Barr Laboratories' application to the FDA to make Plan B available over-the-counter.

A probe by US Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Patty Murray into the failure to act on the emergency contraceptive held up Crawford’s accession to the post, and threatens to do the same for the current nominee Andrew von Eschenbach.