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Obama backs Sebelius’ decision to limit sale of morning after pill

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
Plan B One-Step, levonorgestrel, morning after pill, Obama, Kathleen Sibelius

WASHINGTON, DC - On December 8, President Obama endorsed the decision of Health and Human Service Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to prohibit the over-the-counter sales of the morning after pill: Plan B One-Step. He said, “I did not get involved in the process.” When asked if he fully supported her decision, he said, “I do.”

Obama explained, “I will say this, as the father of two daughters: I think it is important for us to make sure that we apply some common sense to various rules when it comes to over-the-counter medicine… “And as I understand it, the reason Kathleen made this decision was she could not be confident that a 10-year-old or an 11-year-old going into a drugstore should be able—alongside bubble gum or batteries—be able to buy a medication that potentially, if not used properly, could end up having an adverse effect. And I think most parents would probably feel the same way.”

The drug’s manufacturer, Teva Pharmaceuticals had petitioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to allow merchandisers to place the morning after pill on shelves with other family-planning products–– and to sell it to anyone who wanted it. The manufacturer claimed that it had conducted a study, which revealed that girls as young as 12 could understand how to safely use the product. The FDA agreed; in a statement released December 7, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, MD, said "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." However, in a surprising move, Sebelius, Hamburg's boss, overruled the FDA.

Obama asserted that Sebelius had made her decision based on scientific concerns because she noted the manufacturer’s failure to study whether girls as young as 11 could safely use the drug. However, his remarks suggested social and cultural concerns. Democratic minority leader Representative Nancy Pelosi, a strong proponent of reproductive rights groups, neither endorsed nor criticized Obama’s decision. She deferred questions to. Sebelius even as she lauded F.D.A. Commissioner Hamburg.

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Teva’s morning after pill comes with a $50 price tag; thus, many young girls would lack the funds to purchase it. In addition, if they did acquire the funds, it is doubtful that they would spend it on a contraceptive tablet unless they really needed it. Most 11-year-old girls who have $50 in their purse would choose to spend it on a wide variety of “fun things”—not a morning after pill.

Some Democrats have suggested that the Obama administration, by avoiding a contentious debate over teenagers’ sexuality, had preserved maneuvering room as it deals with a separate challenge from the nation’s Catholic bishops, who seek a broad exemption for Catholic hospitals from the 2010 healthcare law’s requirements for contraceptive coverage.

White House advisers declined to discuss the issue, siding with Obama’s comment that the decision rested with Sebelius and had nothing to do with politics. Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster, said it was unclear what the right politics would be for the president on the issue because “there’s a sort of ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ quality to this.” However, beyond the scientific questions, he noted, were legitimate policy ones about making a contraceptive freely available to young girls, without a prescription. He explained, “You’re not saying a parent has to be involved, but the prescription means that a doctor or medical professional has to be involved… I would think that that question would have a special meaning for President Obama, given that he is the father of young girls, and I don’t think this is wholly out of sync with the kinds of values he has expressed over the years. So the idea that this is a sudden reaction to the political moment seems a leap to me.”

Despite Garin’s comments that the issue is non-political, conservative groups have applauded Sebelius’ decision; however, progressive women’s rights groups strongly oppose it.

See Also: Commissioner Sebelius nixes sale of morning after pill without ID



Obama's position on "morning after" pill. Do you think he is acting like a good parent or a conservative?