December 16, 2011
Take Action: Tell President Obama and Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Kathleen Sebelius to reverse their outrageous and purely political decision to overrule the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA's) determination that a form of emergency contraception is safe, effective and should be available over the counter with NO age restriction. Please take action right away.
Background: As most everyone has heard by now, HHS Secretary Sebelius overruled FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg's decision to make Plan B One-Step, a form of emergency contraception, available without a prescription and with no age restriction. The FDA's decision came after a federal court ordered the agency to reconsider an age restriction imposed during the Bush administration. The court characterized the age restriction as purely political and not grounded in science or evidence.
In fact, independent medical experts on an FDA advisory committee reviewing Plan B emergency contraception (levonorgestrelan) unanimously concluded in 2003 that Plan B is safe for non-prescription use and the same panel voted 23 to 4 to make it available without prescription, with no age restriction. The drug was found by the FDA as early as 1997 to be safe and effective; its approval has been repeatedly delayed at the behest of right-wing politicians and contraception opponents such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops - the same folks who are lobbying hard to reduce contraceptive access under the new health care law.
When President Obama took office he vowed to support only evidence-based science in decision-making in contrast to his predecessor, George W. Bush, and conservative politicians who often ignored or distorted scientific fact. Plan B is one of the most well-studied contraceptives in U.S. history; it has been used for years in dozens of other countries.
Distressingly, the Obama administration is now repeating the Bush administration's politicization of girls' and women's access to a safe and effective form of emergency contraception. This must not stand. The U.S. has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the developed world and young women need to have quick access to emergency contraception to prevent unwanted pregnancy.
Adding insult to injury, Secretary Sebelius and President Obama justified countermanding the FDA's decision by questioning the intellectual capacity of younger teenage girls. Said Sibelius: "It is common knowledge that there are significant cognitive and behavioral differences between older adolescent girls and the youngest girls of reproductive age." President Obama made it worse by agreeing and suggesting that "most parents would agree."
To the contrary, we suggest that most parents want lawmakers to protect their daughters' health, not play politics with it. And we have to wonder, where is the concern about the capacity of younger teenage boys to understand the instructions and warnings on a condom package?
The reaction in the women's reproductive rights community and by some of our allies in Congress has been strong. Fourteen U.S. senators, led by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) are callling on Secretary Sebelius to provide the scientific basis behind her decision. A number of House members, led by Reps. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) and Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), also wrote the secretary expressing their disappointment at her decision. The Center for Reproductive Rights, which previously sued the Bush-era FDA for dragging its feet in approving Plan B, now plans to add Secretary Sebelius to its lawsuit.
In the face of this outcry, Sebelius publicly stated she wanted more research done -- which is just another example of stalling in the face of extremist political pressure. The government -- under two different administrations -- appears unwilling to listen to medical experts.
The real commonsense position, NOW believes, is to immediately approve Plan B One-Step for over the counter sale, without prescription and no age restriction. Millions of women need access to this safe and effective product and the U.S. must take "commonsense" action to reduce unwanted pregnancy, particularly among adolescents. Fifteen years of delay, obfuscation, heavy-handed politics and paternalistic preaching is enough!!
Call the White House at 202-465-1414 and ask him to direct Secretary Sebelius to reverse her ill-considered decision on Plan B One-Step and make this safe and effective drug available to all women -- regardless of age -- over the counter now. Then call HHS Secretary Sebelius' office at 877-696-6775 and tell her that women need unrestricted access to Plan B One-Step now and that no further studies are needed.