Obama Will Allow Plan B for All. Score One for Science.

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
June 11 2013 11:59 AM

Obama Will Allow Plan B for All, and Science Finally Beats Politics

165732623
Yours if you need it.

Photo Illustration by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Here’s what the Obama administration’s decision to stop fighting over-the-counter access to the morning-after pill means: Science for once wins over politics. The Food and Drug Administration approved Plan B (an older version of the one-step drug that’s now at issue) way back in 1999. Under Bush, the FDA refused to grant approval. “Some said later, they worried they would be fired if they approved it,” the New York Times reported. In 2006, after research showing this emergency contraception to be safe and effective, the Bush FDA approved its sale over the counter, but only for women 18 and older. The result ever since has been that everyone has to ask a pharmacist for the drug and show proof of age to buy it.

After President Obama’s election and more research showing that teenage girls can understand the medication’s warning label and take it safely, the FDA prepared to lift the age restriction on over-the-counter access. But then politics got in the way. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius swooped in to block the FDA. Why? Sebelius didn’t have any good science to cite, so she raised the specter of a 10- or 11-year-old girl walking into a drugstore and picking up Plan B along with bubble gum. President Obama harrumphed that as a father he personally didn’t like the idea that his daughters could walk into a pharmacy and buy the morning-after pill.

Advertisement

The president may speak for a lot of fathers. And in a lot of realms of governance, that would be enough. But FDA rulings are supposed to be based on science—what the data show, not what a powerful father happens to feel. In this case, keeping Plan B off the shelves (the one-step version that is taking over the market) is irrational. Ten- and 11-year-olds can buy a lethal dose of Tylenol any time. Compare the side effects of Plan B—nausea and getting your period later. Any rational weighing of risks points to making emergency contraception available, as three scientists wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine.

This has never been about rational weighing of risks. It was about fear of teenage sex, first from a Republican president and then, more cravenly, from a Democratic one. The courts called the Obama administration’s bluff, and now a safe medication that prevents pregnancy should soon be widely available. The lesson should be that presidents can’t get away with denying science. At least not forever.

Emily Bazelon is a staff writer at the New York Times Magazine and the author of Sticks and Stones

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Irritating Confidante

John Dickerson on Ben Bradlee’s fascinating relationship with John F. Kennedy.

My Father Invented Social Networking at a Girls’ Reform School in the 1930s

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

The All The President’s Men Scene That Captured Ben Bradlee

Medical Examiner

Is It Better to Be a Hero Like Batman?

Or an altruist like Bruce Wayne?

Technology

Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

The World’s Human Rights Violators Are Signatories on the World’s Human Rights Treaties

How Punctual Are Germans?

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 12:44 AM We Need More Ben Bradlees His relationship with John F. Kennedy shows what’s missing from today’s Washington journalism.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 9:42 PM The All The President’s Men Scene That Perfectly Captured Ben Bradlee’s Genius
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 21 2014 11:44 PM Driving in Circles The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.