Morning-after pill: how the politics of Plan B changed for Obama
In a change of course, the Obama administration has cleared the way for Plan B One-Step to become easily available to women and girls of all ages. Social conservatives are furious.
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Now safely reelected, Obama can let social conservatives have that press release.Skip to next paragraph
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Opponents of emergency contraception object to the pills on the grounds that they can cause an early abortion (a point that supporters of the pills dispute). But their use by underage girls is especially troubling, opponents say, because they make it easy for men to take advantage of girls without the risk of pregnancy. Girls need access to supportive adults and medical care, not a pill, say abortion foes.
“Irresponsibly removing the important opportunity for a health-care provider to identify and intervene in cases of abuse, and giving a potentially life-ending drug to young girls without any understanding of the medical implications, unnecessarily exposes them to risk,” says Charmaine Yoest, president and CEO of Americans United for Life.
Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, hailed Monday’s announcement.
“This is a huge breakthrough for access to birth control and a historic moment for women’s health and equity,” Ms. Richards said. “The FDA’s decision will make emergency contraception available on store shelves, just like condoms, and women of all ages will be able to get it quickly in order to prevent unintended pregnancy.”
The battle for public access to Plan B started in 1999, when the FDA approved it for prescription use. In February 2001, the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a “citizen petition” with the FDA on behalf of more than 70 medical and public health organizations to make Plan B available over the counter.
The ensuing decade, under both Presidents Bush and Obama, was marked by internal struggles at the FDA over the drug, as well as accusations of politicization.
In April of this year, federal Judge Edward Korman – a Reagan appointee – ordered the FDA to make Plan B available to women and girls of all ages without a prescription, calling efforts to prevent that action “arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable.”
In his ruling, Judge Korman expressed disappointment in Sebelius, saying the availability of a drug should be determined by the FDA, not a federal judge.
“The motivation for the secretary’s action was obviously political,” the judge wrote, referring to her December 2011 decision. “It was an election year decision that many public health experts saw as a politically motivated effort to avoid riling religious groups and others opposed to making birth control available to girls.”
In its press release Monday night announcing the change of stance toward Korman’s April 5 order, the FDA said it has asked the maker of Plan B One-Step to submit a “supplemental application” seeking approval of the one-pill product to be made available over the counter without any restrictions.
“Once FDA receives that supplemental application, the FDA intends to approve it promptly,” the agency said.
Eventually, generic versions are expected to be available, also without restrictions.