The week before last, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius blocked the recommendation from the FDA to lift age restrictions on Plan B One-Step (emergency contraception that helps to prevent fertilization from occurring up to 72 hours after unprotected intercourse – not the abortion pill).
What that means is that the FDA, after years of careful review and analysis, had decided that there was no scientifically indicated reason why the medication should require a prescription for users under 17 (and remain behind pharmacy shelves for the rest of us). This highly anticipated recommendation would have allowed Plan B to move (without prescription) from behind the pharmacy counter to where it would be most effective: on store shelves next to the condoms and pregnancy tests.
As someone who has had to resort to “Plan B” after my “plan A” failed at age 16, I feel personally outraged that the Obama administration has supported the HHS and blocked Plan B, an easy-to-use and incredibly important medication that has less physical risk than Tylenol or tampons!
Despite the FDA’s 10 years of scientific investigation on the medication, Sebelius’s rationale was that 11-year-old girls might not follow the directions correctly and, thus, need continued formal medical oversight (a clinician to tell them to take one pill as soon as possible within 72 hours after unprotected intercourse).
What?! In a nation where just about half of all pregnancies are unplanned, where too many of our teenagers are pregnant, and where millions of women lack health insurance, you’re ignoring their needs because the 1% of 11-year-old girls who might be having sex might take the one pill incorrectly?
Medical experts, including the American Academy of Pediatrics have come forward recommending that Plan B be made available for all ages without prescription; experts in the field agree the directions are simple enough, the medication is safe enough, and that there are no legitimate scientific or social reasons why this prescription/behind pharmacy counter barrier should continue to exist.
Experts aside, what if that eleven year old did take Plan B incorrectly? Logic and science tell me that:
1. The medication would be ineffective and her chances of pregnancy would not be decreased.
2. The medication would be ineffective and her chances of pregnancy would not be decreased.
3. The medication would be ineffective and her … should I go on??
Either she would reduce her chances of becoming pregnant or not. And if we are taking the “common sense” approach that Obama cited, my common sense tells me the physical, emotional and societal risks of an 11-year-old becoming pregnant and having a child are more realistic than her misreading instructions that say “take this pill within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse.” What are the real-life consequences of a girl taking the medication incorrectly? Well, pregnancy!
My “common sense” tells me this decision is not about 11-year-old girls. My unfortunate suspicion is that the Obama administration is buckling to the demands of conservative political opponents and, recently, the Catholic Bishops. I understand that I’m ignorant to behind-the-scenes politics, but I do know that the decision contradicted this administration’s policy to choose science over policy To quote the President in 2010:
“… In this new Administration, we base our public policies on the soundest science; that we appoint scientific advisors based on their credentials and experience, not their politics or ideology; and that we are open and honest with the American people about the science behind our decisions.”
In the spirit of his conservative predecessors, politics trumped science again; and in the spirit of systematic patriarchy, ideology trumped women’s health again.
With Obama entertaining an exemption to the Affordable Health Care Act that would allow religious affiliations to reject contraception coverage for their insured employees on moral grounds, and the stunning blow to Plan-B accessibility, it’s almost like the President has forgotten that it’s election season and WOMEN ARE WATCHING.