For what appears to be the first time in history, the head of the Health and Human Services Department has overturned a decision by the FDA. Was this regarding a drug that was so potentially dangerous it could kill or permanently maim people? A drug for which we have little clinical trial evidence or history? A drug that is produced in appallingly unsafe conditions?
No. It is a drug–actually, a single pill–for which we have years of safety and efficacy data, that is exceedingly safe and easy to use, and, get this — doesn’t even require a prescription from a doctor–if you’re 17 and older.
What it does is require is that the patients buying it be at least 17 years of age and head to the back of drugstores to give their names and identification to a pharmacist before receiving it. Oh, and if the pharmacist doesn’t want to provide it, he/she doesn’t have to. And it does require a prescription for those 16 and younger.
It’s Plan B, aka “emergency contraception.” All its manufacturer was asking was that we stop requiring that women who need it — those who had unprotected sex, missed a couple of birth control pills, are taking antibiotics (which can affect the efficacy of estrogen-based contraceptives, were raped, had the condom break or slip off, etc.,– be 17 years old and have to “beg” a pharmacist for it. Instead, the request was to make it as freely available on store shelves as aspirin.
As FDA Administrator Margaret A. Hamburg said in a public statement: “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.”
Why did the HHS administrator–herself a woman–reverse the FDA’s decision? Because since about 10 percent of girls as young as 11 are capable of bearing children, she felt that the drug could not be used safely by these very young girls.
Excuse me? So it’s safer for these girls to get pregnant and have to either undergo an abortion or deliver a child? Helloooooo. And it’s ok for these girls (or even younger children) to buy admittedly more dangerous over-the-counter drugs, like sleeping pills and even Tylenol? Heck, they can buy lubricants designed to “enhance their sexual pleasure” over the counter with no age restriction or having to request it from a pharmacist, but they can’t buy a single pill that could prevent a pregnancy? And really, how many 11-year-olds are even going to know about Plan B?
The rhetoric around this issue has gone from the ludicrous to the insane. In yesterday’s paper, one conservative group opposed open access to Plan B because it would “open the door for child abuse and child exploitation” if pedophiles could rape young girls then give them a pill to prevent pregnancy. Really? And allowing men access to condoms to prevent a pregnancy in children they abuse is ok?
Face it. The reason Plan B is not available on store shelves while condoms are is because we still, even in the year 2011, have a double standard when it comes to sexuality and women. It’s the same double standard that led the FDA to reject a testosterone product for women to help with low libido (obviously not a problem when it comes to approving such products for men) and created a huge outcry when a vaccine to protect women against cervical cancer was approved for girls (because, of course, if they’re now protected against the sexually transmitted virus that causes most cervical cancers, 12-year-old girls will now rush out and have sex) but elicited nary a whimper when it was approved for boys.
We do not want to admit that women–like men–are sexually active beings and provide them with the ability to protect themselves from an unwanted pregnancy.
And yes, I’m sure some of this has to do with our country’s psychosis around abortion issues, even though the pill does NOT provide an abortion, only prevents sperm from reaching an egg or a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus (obviously, some people need to review reproductive science to understand how pregnancy occurs). That’s why it should be taken within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse.
I am beyond livid by this decision. But even more, I am saddened, disappointed and, yes, sickened by such a decision in an administration that I thought supported women’s reproductive rights.