Friday marks exactly one year since the Health and Human Services Department overruled the FDA to restrict access to emergency contraception for women under the age of 17, disregarding the FDA’s recommendation that Plan B — which medical research shows is actually safer than aspirin — should be available to women of all ages. When HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius rejected the FDA’s guidelines on emergency contraception last year, some Democratic lawmakers suggested that decision was politically motivated rather than scientifically based.
Now, with the presidential election behind them, women’s health advocates are renewing their pressure on the Obama administration to reverse that policy:
“We are asking Secretary Sebelius to go back and take another look at the science, the medical evidence … and see if there’s a way to come to agreement to make this product more easily available to the women who need it,” says Kirsten Moore, president and CEO of the Reproductive Health Technologies Project. [...]
Moreover, Moore says, she thinks the election shows that there would be no political price to be paid by the administration for making what advocates say is the science-based decision.
“If there was concern that doing the right thing by emergency contraception was going to get people into trouble,” she says, “I think that question’s been asked and answered politically.”
Under the current federal guidelines, women younger than 17 years old must obtain a prescription from their doctor before being able to purchase Plan B. And the age restrictions have further complicated the stigma around emergency contraception, so even those over the age of 17 run into roadblocks when they attempt to legally purchase Plan B over the counter. Pharmacists often falsely tell women they may not purchase emergency contraception without a prescription, or incorrectly deny Plan B to men, or simply refuse to dispense emergency contraception for their own personal reasons.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has criticized the Obama administration’s age restrictions for posing a significant hurdle to the young women who need access to emergency contraception in a timely manner, especially since Plan B is the most effective when it’s taken within 24 hours of sexual contact. And the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recently recommended that all forms of birth control should be easily accessible over the counter, since women more regularly take effective forms of birth control when they don’t face any roadblocks to accessing them.
Kirsten Moore also believes the voters who reelected President Obama sent a strong message to his administration about their position on these issues — and Obama now has an obligation to follow through for them. “The voters said very clearly this past November that when it comes to women’s health, they think that prevention is a good thing; providing contraception is a good thing; reducing barriers to access, whether it be cost, is a good thing,” she explained to NPR. “And they supported a candidate who clearly made that a part of his message.”