By now, the Obama administration must realize the political firestorm that it has created for itself by overruling the Food and Drug Administration and refusing to expand the availability of emergency contraception to women of reproductive age.
Here, President Obama and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius are the objects of outrage for good reason: their decision to reject the clear-cut medical science in this case exposes their willingness to sacrifice young people and women’s health in the interest of continuing a cowardly brand of politics.
Earlier today, President Obama publicly defended the sudden restrictions on over-the-counter emergency contraception (while simultaneously deflecting blame for this decision). Watch him explain his thinking by citing the non-reason that he is the "father of two daughters" (wait — I am the father of two daughters, and therefore I’m happy to support something that degrades their long-term health?):
(Video from ThinkProgress)
The President may think that this petty maneuvering improves his 2012 election chances, but to this we can only say: you should read and listen to all of the condemnation today. Editorial boards across the country, basically the entire progressive movement, and countless women’s rights and reproductive health organizations and advocates have denounced this administration for selling out and bartering away our health care. This isn’t something that anyone’s going to easily forget.
Below we’ve compiled some must-read reactions to the Obama administration’s emergency contraception reversal:
I have one word. P.O.L.I.T.I.C.S.
If we have been reminded of one thing in the past several months, it is that politicians and religious leaders alike will, when it suits them, marginalize the rights and needs of women to advance their own interests and need for power. And somewhere, someone in the Obama Administration, perhaps the president himself, gave the cue to HHS to overrule the FDA decision. And clearly, as she sometimes did as governor of Kansas, Sebelius did the deed.
Because apparently the health and rights of women do not matter, but placating the far right does. Because apparently helping teens actually prevent unintended pregnancies isn’t an authentic a goal of this administration. Perhaps it was among the topics on which President Obama came to "understand the concerns of Catholics [read: the 281 bishops]," as Archbishop Timothy Dolan assured The New York Times after his private meeting with the president.
Teva Pharmaceuticals, the Israeli manufacturer of Plan B, met every standard the FDA uses to evaluate whether or not a drug should be sold over-the-counter with no age restrictions, and they met the standards years ago. In 2005, Bush administration officials also hijacked the over-the-counter approval process, citing vague concerns about the decision-making skills of the under-18 set. The Government Accountability Office excoriated the politicized process that kept Plan B behind the pharmacist counter, noting that out of the 67 proposed prescription-to-OTC switches considered from 1994 to 2004, Plan B was the only one whose application was denied despite the advisory committee’s recommendation for approval.
In other words, we’re seeing a pattern.
Teva applies to sell Plan B over the counter.
The medical experts weigh the evidence and agree with their application.
But political appointees with ties to the White House block the switch, citing vague concerns about the decision-making abilities of teenagers.
It’s hard to understand how the Secretary thought there was good reason to contradict the FDA, especially when many clinicians, members of Congress, reproductive rights advocates and healthcare professionals saw no evidence to prevent Plan B from being over-the-counter. In fact, the effort to make emergency contraception available to all people of reproductive age started six years ago. In 2005, Susan Wood resigned from the FDA because of delays in approving Plan B over the counter. Today, she’s quoted in the Washington Post, saying:
"There is no rationale that can justify HHS reaching in and overturning the FDA on the decision about this safe and effective contraception. I never thought I’d see this happen again."
Good news. It looks like we’ve finally gotten the long awaited post-partisan achievement: the Democrats have joined the war on science. And women! It’s a twofer…
Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, reversed the decision, arguing that younger girls, those 11 or 12 years old, have different cognitive and behavioral skills than older girls. She offered no evidence to challenge her agency’s in-depth analysis. And it is hard not to see this as anything but an effort to blunt Republican criticism in the presidential campaign or shield the FDA budget from retaliation. Unfortunately, the losers will be young girls who need easy access to the pill.
In other words, there isn’t enough evidence that a 15-year-old girl has the "cognitive" and "behavioral" ability to read a label and properly take a pill. So, since it’s "common knowledge" that girls under 17 are too stupid and/or immature to undertand how to read a label, it’s safer for them if they have to first get to a doctor who will write them a prescription they can take to the pharmacy — all within 72 hours. Which should be easy for a kid to do, right?
I really thought you were going to hold the football steady this time, Obama. I really did.
I’m an idiot. I keep hoping against hope that you’re not going to throw women under the bus. That you can stand up to the ladies who swoon at the Concerned Women for America. You think they’re going to vote for you because you said no to Plan B?
Make no mistake: Sebelius didn’t go rogue here; there is no doubt in our minds that she was carrying out marching orders from an administration now fully in re-election mode and — for reasons we’re trying and utterly failing to wrap our heads around — fearing backlash from a conservative bloc that regularly sends people like Mark Foley to Congress and Ted Haggard to the pulpit and would sooner undergo voluntary waterboarding than vote for a Democrat anyway.
Despite significant progress in reducing the teen pregnancy rate, about 50,000 girls in California have unwanted pregnancies every year. The FDA conducted extensive research and found that Plan B is safe and effective. It is already sold over the counter in more than 40 nations. Case closed. But not for Sebelius — nor, we can only assume, for Obama.
Finally, the last word goes to the actual health care providers. Three expert groups that represent well over 100,000 medical professionals condemned the Obama administration for prioritizing political gamesmanship over the health and well-being of countless Americans:
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (The College) and the Society of Adolescent Health and Medicine (SAHM) denounce the decision today by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to overrule an evidence-based decision by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve an application for over-the-counter access without age restriction to the emergency contraception (EC) product Plan B One-Step. This move defies the strong data that EC is safe and effective for all females of reproductive age.