In a move that shocked many, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius yesterday decided the Plan B morning-after pill should not be made available over-the-counter to girls under age 17. ABC News reports:
It’s the morning after and the controversy over how to sell emergency contraception still looms. …
Overruling scientists at the Food and Drug Administration, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius decided that young girls shouldn’t be able to buy the pill on their own, saying she was worried about confusing 11-year-olds.
For now, Plan B will stay behind pharmacy counters, available without a prescription only to those 17 and older who can prove their age.
Predictably, “feminists, a crucial constituency, feel betrayed and furious,” according to an article by Michelle Goldberg at The Daily Beast.
Frankly, I’m astonished by this, too, even as I’m pleased by it. The secular rationale for Sebelius’ decision is admittedly thin. She didn’t, for example, argue that the pill is unsafe for minors. (I would easily believe that, though, whatever FDA experts might say. Masked by FDA approval, ordinary birth control is commonly thought safe, for example, but the health risks associated with it — from the increased likelihood of secondary infertility to a potential higher risk for breast cancer — are plentiful. The morning-after pill — especially if used with any kind of regularity — could plausibly have similar side effects.)
No, Sebelius said she doubts 11-year-old girls — about 10 percent of whom are already capable of childbearing — would know how to properly use the pill without guidance. Given that at least one study shows that’s not necessarily true, it’s easier to believe Sebelius made this decision — and Barack Obama stood by it — as a conscious concession to certain social conservatives who have fought hard against increased and easier access to the pill. It is a crucial time in the election cycle, after all.
Had Sebelius decided to grant access, I would neither have been surprised nor outraged. It’s a very different thing to allow a product to be sold than it is to mandate that health insurance companies cover birth control, just as it’s a very different thing to bring Gardasil to market than it is to mandate young girls receive the vaccine.
Still, I cheer this decision because I’m of the same mind as John Paul II and others who’ve compellingly made the case that contraception (especially abortifacients like Plan B!) and abortion — both designed to decouple the pleasurable and procreative aspects of sex — are, in many ways, two sides of the same coin. In general, I think battles related to both are best fought in the cultural realm, but I’m not going to complain when pro-lifers receive a little help from Kathleen Sebelius.