Plan B (also known as the morning-after pill) was approved by the FDA at the end of the Clinton administration in 1999. Since 2009, it has been available behind the pharmacy counter without prescription for women 17 years of age and older. This week, the FDA considered a request from Plan B manufacturer Teva Pharmaceuticals to allow women of any age to obtain the drug directly off the shelf, no prescription or interaction with a pharmacist required.
This move sparked outrage from pro-life groups for several reasons, including the fact that the drug can kill a newly conceived human being. That such poison might soon be available to any woman, regardless of her age or condition, is unfortunate; and making it so accessible for young girls is particularly worrisome. Not only would it encourage youthful promiscuity, it would also increase the risk of underage sexual abuse by giving would-be abusers an easy means of concealing their crimes.
Yesterday, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, M.D. announced approval of Teva’s request. However, Heath and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius proceeded to overrule that decision. Sebelius’ decision was, to borrow the phrase pro-life blogger Jill Stanek used upon hearing the news, a shocking dose of sanity for the HHS, which earlier this year ruled contraception “preventative medicine” covered under the Affordable Care Act, thus forcing its coverage under all insurance plans — even those of religious institutions.
In a statement explaining her decision, Secretary Sebelius, who is normally known for her radical pro-abortion views, expressed concern that the “label comprehension and actual use studies submitted to FDA do not include data on all ages for which the drug would be approved and available over-the-counter.” Relevant to determining the non-prescription availability of Plan B for all ages, she said, was the “cognitive and behavioral differences between older adolescent girls and the youngest girls of reproductive age” (girls as young as 11-years-old) who would be able to purchase the drug without prescription or other point-of-sale restrictions.
Needless to say, it is now the abortion rights proponents’ turn to be outraged. Ms. Magazine considered Secretary Sebelius’ move betrayal by someone they thought they could always count on as a “friend of ‘women’s health.'” Meanwhile, Amanda Marcotte smartly called it the “stupidest decision ever.” Some are questioning the motives behind the decision, labeling it a political maneuver triggered by relentless pressure from religious groups, or based upon fear of potential liabilities during the 2012 presidential campaign.
Whatever the reason for her decision, it was certainly the right one. Plan B is harmful to both nascent human life and underage girls. We should be thankful that the widespread availability of such a powerful and toxic drug is off the table — for now.