Earlier this week, the Obama administration announced that it will fight to maintain age restrictions on over-the-counter Plan B sales, appealing a U.S. federal judge’s recent ruling that ordered the FDA to make that type of contraceptive available to all women without a prescription. The FDA recently lowered the age threshold for over-the-counter sales from 17 to 15, and President Obama said on Thursday that he supports continuing to restrict Plan B for girls younger than 15.
“I’m very comfortable with the decision they’ve made right now based on solid scientific evidence for girls 15 and older,” Obama said at a press conference on Thursday afternoon. That’s consistent with the administration’s previous claims that Plan B could be too “dangerous” for young women to use correctly.
But — despite Obama’s misleading reference to “solid scientific evidence” — that position isn’t actually backed by science. In fact, multiple prominent doctor’s groups and medical experts have confirmed that emergency contraception is safe for teens of all ages to use. The morning after pill is safer than aspirin. That’s why the FDA approved it for over-the-counter use for all ages back in 2011. The only reason that the agency amended its policy to impose an age restriction is because the Obama administration stepped in to overrule the FDA — a political overreach that wasn’t based on the scientific evidence, but rather signaled a decision to disregard it.
In reality, the fight to limit over-the-counter sales of Plan B is more related to social pressures than it is to scientific evidence. Paternalistic attitudes toward teen sexuality have led many Americans to favor restricting sexual health resources for youth. But, as the American Academy of Pediatrics points out, allowing younger teens to have access to the birth control resources they need is actually a safer public health policy than enacting an unnecessary age restriction, since it can help prevent unintended pregnancies and abortions among young girls. The United States continues to have one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the developed world.
Both women’s health groups and anti-abortion activists have been critical of the Obama administration’s emergency contraception policy. Perhaps in an attempt to distance himself from the ongoing controversy, the president noted on Thursday that the FDA is ultimately outside of his purview. “It’s not my decision to make,” Obama said. “The first time around, where there were no age restrictions, Secretary Sebelius expressed concerns and I supported those concerns and I gave voice to them.”