President Obama said on Thursday he “did not get involved” in the decision to prevent young girls from buying the controversial morning-after “Plan B” pill in drug stores. He told reporters at the White House the decision was made by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. But he gave it his full backing despite criticism from women’s health activists.
That would be the decision, announced yesterday, that in a never-before-seen decision to overrule the Food and Drug Administration's recommendation, Kathleen Sebelius decided girls under the age of 17 are too dumb and immature to use the morning after pill without a prescription.
First of all, it seems highly unlikely that Sebelius made this unexpected, unprecedented and rather shocking decision without any input whatsoever from the White House. Especially now, as the country awaits the president's decision about whether to cover contraception without co-pays under the Affordable Care Act—as he'd said would be the policy—or whether to side with the Catholic Bishops by throwing the 99 percent of women who use, or have used birth control, under that all-too-familiar, high-mileage bus. This looks a lot more like a decision to let Sebelius be the scapegoat for a decision that, inevitably, is only further infuriating those whom the president seems so devoted to alienating.
Furthermore, if the president is to be given credit for the laudable decisions made under his administration—like, for example, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's historic speech earlier this week about using foreign aid to advance gay rights—then he also must be held accountable for the poor decisions made under his administration, like the one announced yesterday.
But it isn't just bad optics for the president to endorse this position while also evading responsibility for it. It's also just a really bad decision based on fallacious logic, not science. Like, for example, if a teenager is too young and immature to understand how to take a pill, letting unprotected sex turn into an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy might not be the best idea. Not to mention the concern about the safety of allowing teens to buy this medication without a prescription, when there are plenty of medications more dangerous than Plan B that are sold over the counter to minors, no prescription (or literacy tests) required. Further, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg stated yesterday:
The Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) completed its review of the Plan B One-Step application and laid out its scientific determination. CDER carefully considered whether younger females were able to understand how to use Plan B One-Step. Based on the information submitted to the agency, CDER determined that the product was safe and effective in adolescent females, that adolescent females understood the product was not for routine use, and that the product would not protect them against sexually transmitted diseases. Additionally, the data supported a finding that adolescent females could use Plan B One-Step properly without the intervention of a healthcare provider.
But today, the president, in addition to hanging this poor decision around Sebelius' neck, he also ignored the science—and recommendation of the FDA—to spout nonsense talking points:
I will say this, as the father of two daughters. I think it is important for us to make sure that we apply some common sense to various rules when it comes to over-the-counter medicine. And as I understand it, the reason Kathleen made this decision was she could not be confident that a 10-year-old or an 11-year-old go into a drugstore, should be able—alongside bubble gum or batteries—be able to buy a medication that potentially, if not used properly, could end up having an adverse effect. And I think most parents would probably feel the same way.
Well, yes, common sense when it comes to contraception would be a nice idea. Memo to the president: Suggesting that possibly pregnant teens should not be able to buy emergency contraception as easily as they can buy bubble gum—while ignoring the far more dangerous medications they can buy over the counter—is not common sense.
The common sense approach to contraception is to make it as accessible and affordable as possible to all girls and women of reproductive age because that is the best way to reduce unplanned and unwanted pregnancies, especially among teens.
That's the common sense approach. Sure would be nice to see the president try it.