The following is a reprint of “Plan B: Politics trumps science,” published here December 10, 2011. With minor changes, it is as relevant today as it was in 2011. Remember, a US district judge last month ruled the FDA must make Plan B, the “morning after pill,” available over the counter to all girls and women, regardless of age. In response, the FDA announced this week it would make Plan B and its generic equivalents available over the counter to women age 15 and older, with proof of age required for purchase. It’s a start but obviously not what the court ordered. The next day the Justice Department announced it would appeal the earlier district court ruling. In other words, despite President Obama’s declarations that he’ll protect women’s reproductive rights, he and his administration are continuing their efforts to block full and easy access to Plan B, a drug that scientists and physicians have already determined is safe for women of all ages.
Something disturbing happened in Washington this week. No, it wasn’t election related. It wasn’t even Congress related.
It was a single individual, Katherine Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, deciding to overrule the FDA and its determination that Plan B, an emergency “morning after” contraceptive, is safe to be sold without a prescription to any female of child-bearing age. Rather than yield to science and logic, Sebelius decided the drug should continue to be kept behind pharmacy counters instead of being openly available on store shelves, and dispensed only to women 17 and older who have either a prescription or proof of age.
We have children raising children in America, often in poor communities, due to lack of education, lack of access to proper health care, lack of adult advice and supervision, or all of the above. We also have pregnancies occurring when other birth control methods fail, or in cases of rape and incest. These things shouldn’t happen, but they do. Kids shouldn’t be having sex, but they do. Kids should go to their parent(s) or doctor if they think they are pregnant, but for any number of reasons, they don’t. That’s the reality, and denying it changes nothing. If it did, America’s teen pregnancy problem would not exist.
There are parents who don’t want Plan B available to their 13-year-old because they, the parents, “want to know”; they want to know if their daughter gets pregnant. Of course they do. But their knowing wouldn’t change anything; their child would still be pregnant. More than likely, they just want to feel like parents, like they are involved in the process and in control of what their 13-year-old does. That’s a normal parental response, but obviously if the child is seeking Plan B, the parent has been out of the loop for a while. Better to equip the child with the knowledge to protect herself and hope she doesn’t need it than to not prepare her and end up with an unwanted pregnancy.
Given the reality of life in the U.S. today, the number of teen pregnancies we have, and the scientific research confirming the safety of Plan B, there seems only one reason for Sec. Sebelius to have overruled the FDA: personal politics. This is the first time any HHS secretary has overruled an FDA decision on drug safety and use. Worse, and incomprehensibly, Pres. Obama supported her decision.
Francesca Grifo, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Scientific Integrity Program, commented:
Secretary Sebelius, a non-scientist, overruled the conclusions of an independent scientific panel that arrived at its decision after careful analysis and consideration of the data. Plan B is considered safe for over-the-counter use not only by FDA scientists and advisors but also by countless esteemed medical associations, from the American Academy of Pediatrics to the American Medical Association.
The secretary’s decision undermines the ability of FDA to make drug approval decisions based on the best available science. The president’s support for the secretary’s decision is unfortunate, as it is inconsistent with his own March 2009 memorandum on scientific integrity.
That memorandum states, in part: “The public must be able to trust the science and scientific process informing public policy decisions. Political officials should not suppress or alter scientific or technological findings and conclusions.”
It was a bad decision by Sebelius and a bad decision by Obama. It is also another blow in the ongoing war on reproductive rights and choice. Should children be buying Plan B? Ideally, they shouldn’t need to. Ideally they shouldn’t be facing such a decision — and certainly not without parental input. But as long as kids have sex or are sexually abused and don’t or can’t seek help from the adults in their lives, Plan B will be preferable to children having children.
Someone named DCMike commented on the Huffington Post:
“Plan B gives young women a tomorrow that belongs to them. Let them have it.”
I would say the same for all birth control, all contraceptives, and all family planning resources.
- The Plan B Absurdity: Emergency Contraception Is Treated Like A Drug That Could Be Abused (forbes.com)
- Putting Politics Ahead of Science (nytimes.com)
- Justice Department to appeal FDA’s contentious Plan B pill decision (foxnews.com)
- Women’s groups decry appeal on morning-after pill (news.yahoo.com)
- Justice Department appeals morning-after case (bostonherald.com)
- Chris Weigant: Plan B’s Plan B (huffingtonpost.com)
- FDA’s new morning-after rule is more Plan C than Plan B (tv.msnbc.com)