Obama administration says “No” to lowering age for Plan B
Last week, in a surprise move, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, stopped the Plan B One-Step pill (commonly known as the Morning-after Pill) from moving onto drugstore shelves where even young women would have access without a prescription. Plan B instead will remain behind the pharmacy counter, as it is sold today and will be available without a prescription only for those girls who are age 17 and older and can show an ID proving their age.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was preparing to lift a controversial age limit and make Plan B One-Step the nation’s first over-the-counter emergency contraceptive, available for purchase by people of any age without a prescription. The so-called Morning-after Pill can stop pregnancy up to three days after intercourse. Those who opposed the lowering of the age limit feared that easy access would lead to more young girls having unprotected sex. This practice, they argued would lead to increased possibilities of STDs. Under the proposed plan, any girl of child-bearing age would have had access to the pills. Major medical groups as well as women’s health advocates argue that easier and quicker access to those pills could cut the nation’s high number of unplanned pregnancies.
This issue has been studied for years and had the approval of the FDA. Secretary Sebelius stated as her reason for the reversal was concern that some girls as young as 11 are physically capable of bearing children, and Plan B’s maker, Teva Pharmaceuticals, failed to demonstrate that younger girls could properly understand how to use this product without guidance from an adult.
Cynthia Pearson, executive director of the National Women’s Health Network, an advocacy group that supports making Plan B available to all ages stated that the only explanation for the reversal was politics. FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg stated that her agency’s drug safety experts had carefully considered the question of young girls and that she had agreed that Plan B’s age limit should be removed. She stated 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 child-bearing potential.”
The move by Secretary Sebelius has inserted the Obama administration into the long-running controversy over how much the federal government should restrict access to Plan B. Some political observers noted that allowing girls under age 17 to buy the $50 pill over the counter could have saddled the Obama administration with a political target as the 2012 presidential campaign moves closer. The administration might well have decided that they were already fighting uphill due to the economy and that this was one addition piece of political baggage that they didn’t need to carry.
Forum Questions of the Week:
1) Does the Health and Human Services secretary have the authority to make this decision? 2) Should the Morning-after Pill be made available to women under the age of 17, as it is currently available without prescription to women age 17 and higher?