President Obama said Thursday he was not involved in his administration’s decision to block over-the-counter sales of the Plan B morning-after pill to girls under age 17, but said he supports the action “as the father of two daughters.”
“I did not get involved in the process,” Mr. Obama said at a White House news conference of the decision by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “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.”
The president’s daughters are ages 13 and 10. Undoubtedly aware that pro-choice groups were infuriated by the move, Mr. Obama had to be prompted by a reporter before saying that he agreed with Mrs. Sebelius’ decision.
The HHS chief overruled the Food and Drug Administration, which was preparing to lift the age limit and make Plan B the nation’s first over-the-counter emergency contraceptive. Anyone without a prescription of any age could have purchased it.
With the action by HHS, Plan B will remain behind the pharmacy counter, available without a prescription only for purchasers 17 or older who can show proof of age.
The decision outraged some advocacy groups such as the National Women’s Health Network and the National Organization for Women, who accused the administration to caving in to politics and disregarding science.
“The Obama administration has sided with radical right politics,” said NOW President Terry O’Neill. “NOW calls on the president to stop playing politics with the lives of women and girls. During the Bush years, women’s reproductive health was under constant attack. We don’t need more of the same from the Obama administration.”
But conservative groups such as the Family Research Council applauded the decision.
Jeanne Monahan, director of FRC’s Center for Human Dignity, said the sale of Plan B to girls under age 17 “would not have been in the interest of young women’s health.”
“Young people have approximately half of the sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” Mrs. Monahan said in a statement. “The availability of Plan B over-the-counter for all ages would have bypassed necessary routine medical care for sexually active girls. And a study released in 2010 revealed that adolescent use of Plan B was correlated with an increase in unplanned pregnancies and a high STD rate.”
Americans United for Life President Charmaine Yoest said the administration didn’t go far enough.
“Secretary Sebelius made the right decision today in protecting the health and safety of minors. However, it’s an outrage that a drug like Plan B is available over the counter at any age — this is a policy that endangers women’s health and should be reversed.”
Ms. O’Neill said it was “infuriating” for the Obama administration to overrule its own experts, “especially at a time when rumors are flying that the president is on the brink of caving in to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops by expanding religiously affiliated employers’ ability to deny contraceptive coverage to women under the Affordable Care Act.”
Among her reasons for rejecting over-the-counter sales, Mrs. Sebelius said some girls as young as age 11 are capable of bearing children, but drug manufacturer Teva Pharmaceutical Industries didn’t prove that younger girls would understand how to use the drug without adult supervision.
Said the president, “The reason Kathleen made this decision was she could not be confident that a 10-year-old or an 11-year-old going to 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.”
Teva’s Plan B One-Step is a pill designed to reduce the chance of becoming pregnant if taken within 72 hours after unprotected intercourse. Pro-life groups have referred to it as an “abortion pill” because the drug can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus.
Mrs. Monahan said Plan B “can act in a way that can destroy life by preventing implantation. Women of all ages have the right to know how this drug may act in their bodies and on their newly developing babies.”
The president said “nobody is challenging” the FDA’s view that the drug is safe for women 17 or older.
“When it comes to 12-year-olds or 13-year-olds, the question is can we have confidence that they would potentially use Plan B properly,” Mr. Obama said.