Contrary to Josh's prediction, I'm not having a conniption fit so much as heaving a deep sigh over yet another huge disappointment from the Obama Administration.
I'm talking, of course, about today's news that Obama's health and human services secretary Kathleen Sebelius has overruled the recommendation of her own experts at the Food and Drug Administration, killing a rule change that would have made Plan B emergency contraception available to teenagers and adults over the counter. Emergency contraception works by preventing the ovaries from releasing eggs, and is 89 percent effective at preventing pregnancy if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex.[pullquote]Is it better for 11-year-olds to have children than have access to birth control?[/pullquote]
Sebelius' argument against making EC widely available boils down, in effect, to "What about the children?" Noting that 10 percent of 11-year-olds are technically capable of becoming pregnant (the youngest girls studied were 12), Sebelius said in a statement, "It is common knowledge that there are significant cognitive and behavioral differences between older adolescent girls and the youngest girls of reproductive age."
Increasing access to birth control, in other words, will cause immature 11-year-olds to have sex, according to Sebelius---an argument that only makes sense if you believe either that 1) Girls (and boys) who want to have sex will abstain as long as certain forms of birth control are hard to get, or 2) that pregnancy is a fitting punishment for 11-year-olds who have sex or are raped.
The move also ignores more than a decade of science showing, in the FDA's own words, that Plan B is "safe and effective for nonprescription use to reduce the chance of pregnancy after unprotected sexual intercourse" for women and girls of all ages, as well as studies showing that teenagers are capable of reading and understanding the instructions on the package well enough to use the drug safely and effectively on their own.
Sebelius' decision restores rules that make Plan B available only to those who can provide a prescription or prove to a pharmacist that they're over 17. Because Plan B is most effective within 24 hours of unprotected sex, the more barriers the government puts in place to obtaining it---teens who need emergency birth control must first work up the nerve to tell their parents, then get an appointment with a doctor, then fill a prescription during the limited hours their pharmacy is open, and even adult women have to announce to the pharmacist, in public, the reason they need emergency contraception---the fewer women and girls will have access to it. That means more unplanned pregnancies, more teenage single mothers, and more abortions. So much for hope and change.
To put Sebelius' decision, which stunned women's health advocates and the FDA, in context: No health and human services secretary has ever overruled a rule recommended by the agency. Sebelius' move also defies a 2009 ruling by a US district judge ordering the agency to make Plan B available to girls younger than 18, in which the judge agreed that the restriction was "arbitrary and capricious" and based on "political and ideological" considerations.
If nothing else, the decision reveals the power anti-choice activists have over the Obama administration, which has a history of cowing to political pressure from anti-choice activists who want to restrict access not just to abortion but to emergency contraception and conventional birth control.
Fortunately, girls of all ages will still have access to over-the-counter emergency pregnancy tests. Unfortunately, with today's decision, Sebelius and the Obama Administration have ensured that more girls will need them.