On Wednesday, as expected, the Food and Drug Administration approved the emergency contraception, Plan B, for over-the-counter sales without restriction, expanding access to those under the age of 17 without a prescription. It was a time for celebration, but without warning and in an unprecedented act, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius overruled the FDA.
Under a Democratic President who trumps science over ideology, the HHS ruling has obstructed pivotal advances for women and girls by limiting access to reproductive health care. If you are outraged as I am, I urge you to sign this petition to the President now!
Plan B One-Step is a single pill emergency contraceptive that is effective in preventing pregnancy and can be taken up to 72 hours after unprotected sex. Emergency contraception is birth control, not an abortion pill; Plan B contains a higher dose of levonorgestrel, a hormone found in many birth control pills that have been prescribed for more than 35 years. It works by stopping ovulation and preventing implantation. FDA Commissioner, Margaret Hamburg stated that 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 child-bearing potential.”
In rebuttal, Sebelius’ statement argued that unfettered access to emergency contraception may lead to misuse of the drug by younger girls. “It is common knowledge that there are significant cognitive and behavioral differences between older adolescent girls and the youngest girls of reproductive age. If the application were approved, the product would be available, without prescription, for all girls of reproductive age.”
Wouldn’t that be the point, Secretary?
There are plenty of over-the-counter drugs that have the potential to be misused; what makes contraception different than pain medication, cold remedies, or nicotine patches? Maybe sexism? Dr. Susan Wood, a former FDA assistant commissioner who resigned over the Bush administration’s continued delays for approving over-the-counter use of emergency contraception, asks, “Are we going to go and now do this with all products, or are contraceptives once again being singled out for this special treatment and this extra standard when we’re talking about a very safe and very effective product that can really help women?” This paternalistic viewpoint of needing to protect young girls by limiting their access to safe, scientifically sound emergency contraception is extremely backwards and a disgraceful example of efforts to limit women’s control over our own bodies and decision making.
In what is being called a “politics over science” ruling, young women and girls under the age of 16 who are looking to prevent pregnancy will still need a prescription from their doctor for Plan B. In time sensitive situations (Plan B’s recommended use is no more than 72 hours after unprotected sex), obtaining a prescription is another unacceptable barrier to accessing safe reproductive health care. Let’s not forget that the ruling also maintains barriers for those 17 or older. Right now, to get Plan B, you need to provide a prescription or an ID that verifies your age to a pharmacist, which can prove to be an embarrassing deterrent for anyone needed to access these services.
Please take a stand and voice your option. Sign the petition and tell the Obama to overturn the HHS decision. As Ellie Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation said, “Women must not be forced to jump through unnecessary hoops to obtain safe and effective contraception. Men and boys of all ages can obtain condoms easily, without interference from any government authority. Women and girls deserve equal treatment and respect, at the minimum.”
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