In a disappointing and unprecedented move, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) overruled the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) recommendation to lift the age restriction on Plan B One Step, a form of emergency contraception. Plan B, often referred to as the “morning after pill,” is 89% effective at safely preventing pregnancy if taken within 72 hours after unprotected sexual intercourse. On December 7, 2011, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius rejected the FDA’s decision to make emergency contraception available over-the-counter without age restriction on the basis that the data submitted to the FDA did not “conclusively establish” that Plan B could be used safely by the youngest girls of reproductive age, adding that 11-year old girls may not be able to safely comprehend and use the medication. In what the FDA believes is the first time that the HHS has overruled one of its recommendations, FDA Administrator Margaret Hamburg, M.D. revealed this rare public rift and concluded that “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 nonprescription use for all females of childbearing potential.” At a press conference, President Obama promptly defended Secretary Sebelius, saying that while he “did not get involved in the process,” he supported the Secretary’s decision that Plan B should not be available at the drug store “alongside bubble gum or batteries.”
The Obama administration’s decision imposes a dangerous obstacle in the pathway of protecting women’s health. Indeed, the FDA’s recommendation to make emergency contraception available without restriction was overwhelmingly supported by medical and scientific authorities, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Society of Adolescent Health and Medicine. In a letter sent on December 19th to President Obama and Secretary Sebelius, the Women’s Law Project (WLP) urged the President to reevaluate and reconsider this decision and to take future action to protect, not undermine, women’s health. Among the many concerns cited in its letter, WLP noted that when our country faces approximately 3.1 million unintended pregnancies each year, unrestricted access to safe and effective contraception is vital. WLP also pointed out that there is simply no evidence to suggest that making emergency over-the-counter contraception available encourages young women to begin having sex at a younger age, or engage in sex with more partners. Further, the FDA’s recommended change would have made emergency contraception – which remains behind the pharmacist’s counter for women ages 17 years and older – far more accessible to women of all ages, an important development given the vast number of unplanned pregnancies among women in their twenties and thirties.
To voice your objection about the Obama’s administration poor decision with respect to Plan B, call and/or write a letter to President Obama and Secretary Sebelius today:
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Secretary Kathleen Sebelius
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20201
Please visit www.womenslawproject.org for more information.