It’s a moment we rarely see – those for and against a woman’s right to choose how and when she’ll become a parent are agreeing on something. Both sides are peeved at the Obama Administration for its treatment of the Food and Drug Administration’s recommendation that Plan B One-Step emergency contraception (aka the “morning after pill”) be made available over-the-counter to individuals under the age of 17. Both sides are accusing President Obama of playing politics to appeal to conservatives as we approach the 2012 election.
By now you’ve probably heard about what happened but here’s a breakdown: earlier this month, FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg stood by an agency study that concluded “there is adequate and reasonable, well-supported and science-based evidence that Plan B One-Step is safe and effective and should be approved for non-prescription use for all females of child-bearing potential” (emphasis mine). Instead of regulations being changed to comport with the commissioner’s recommendation, Health and Human Services Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, made a move rarely seen when she publicly disagreed with the FDA’s scientists and researchers. Her rationale for putting the kibosh on Plan B for all ages? The data was inconclusive. In other words, the Obama Administration told the FDA and Teva Pharmaceuticals, the makers of Plan B One-Step, that “we don’t believe you, you need more people.”
Plan B One-Step has been available by prescription since 1999 and over-the-counter to anyone aged 17 and up since 2009. The drug is no stranger to controversy and has been under fire from opponents of contraception and abortion since its inception. This most recent scuffle over emergency contraception, according to Sebelius, has to do with protecting young girls from predators and from themselves.
Anyone who has seen “To Catch a Predator” with Chris Hansen or read the recent survey results in which 1 out of 5 American women admit to being sexually assaulted in her lifetime, half of those being teenagers, knows that protecting our youth from sexual predators is a worthwhile goal. The fear with Plan B One-Step is that if you make the drug available to a 14 year-old girl who is pregnant as a result of statutory rape, incest, etc., then you’re helping out the predator by getting rid of the evidence and allowing the assault to continue in the shadows. By this reasoning, the 14 year-old will potentially become pregnant in order to bring the perpetrator out into the light. Then, her options become have the baby or get an abortion. Nice.
The other concern is girls of childbearing age could be as young as 11 years-old in some cases and you can’t trust 11-16 year olds to take the drug properly. This would make sense to me if we were asking girls to take large doses of harmful and complicated drugs but Plan B One-Step is probably the simplest drug I’ve ingested aside from Flintstone Vitamins. It’s not even two pills anymore, hence the name “One-Step.” I think we’re severely underestimating our youth if we think they can’t read the instructions or sit through a brief pharmacist consultation and pop one pill. Heck, they could even take the pill in front of the pharmacist!
The lack of medical and scientific reasoning to prevent the sale of Plan B One-Step to anyone who needs it makes it clear to anyone watching that this is political gamesmanship on behalf of the Obama Administration. Last week, a federal judge ruled that he would allow the Center for Reproductive Rights to revive a lawsuit against the FDA for “imposing unnecessary age restrictions on emergency contraceptives, and seek immediate relief to allow broader access to available drugs” and add Sebelius as a defendant this time around. This action would allow a federal court to hear the matter between the FDA and Health and Human Services and make a ruling which could open the doors to making Plan B One-Step more available.
I think this is a smart move and we’ll be watching because no matter how much you want to ignore it, teens are having sex. When those teens slip up with their contraception or fail to use any at all, I want them to be able to have a second chance to prevent pregnancy. The key to emergency contraception is using it soon after unprotected sex – up to five days, but earlier is better – and making it as available as condoms, lubricants, birth control tests, and other sexually-related OTC drugstore items sounds about right to me.