By Nicole Clark
Last week, we were all psyched because the Food and Drug Administration recommended that Plan B One-Step (also known as emergency contraception) be approved over-the-counter for women and young people of all ages…then the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) gave the FDA the shaft, with Secretary Kathleen Sebelius ruling that younger adolescents don’t have the same capacity to think as critically as their older peers. Everybody had something to say about it, including Jessica Valenti, Jezebel, NARAL, The Washington Post, doctors groups, The New York Times, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, and RH Reality Check.
Then President Obama decided to defend the Secretary Sebelius’s decision, stating that, as a father of two daughters, the government should “apply some common sense” — as opposed to what? Listening to science? While I understand President Obama’s stance and I can see where Secretary Sebelius is coming from to a certain degree, I also understand a couple of things:
- 2012 is an election year: This is really about the Obama administration taking all necessary routes to make sure that Obama is re-elected in 2012. What better way to assist in that than by appealing to the “moral consciousness” of many people who are undecided if they should vote for Obama or for the yet-unknown Republican candidate, and by throwing young people under the bus in the process?
- Making access to contraception more difficult can result in negative consequences: If a 16-year-old cannot get access to Plan B, the chances of experiencing an unwanted pregnancy or having an abortion increase significantly. Thus, if the goal is to decrease the number of abortion procedures and the number of teen pregnancies, it makes sense to provide everyone with access to an array of birth control options, including emergency contraception. Emergency contraception is safe when used as directed, and it can stop unwanted pregnancies from occurring. This is why comprehensive sex education, combined with parent-child communication, is extremely important.
- All young people are not the same: Secretary Sebelius’s statement that younger adolescents may not have the same capacity to think as critically as their older peers makes sense on a surface level, but in working with young people throughout the years, I know that not all young people think alike, act alike, and many are more mature and can think critically than many adults give them credit for. In fact, I believe I know more young people who know what Plan B than older adults. Sebelius provided no scientific evidence that would actually say why the FDA is incorrect in their recommendation. To say that younger adolescents do not know how to effectively read a label and take the correct dosage (or that they wouldn’t be able to go to their nearest clinic or to a trusted adult if they have questions) is bizarre and condescending.
- The same HHS that vetoed the FDA’s recommendation on Plan B is the same HHS that recommended health insurance companies provide birth control prescriptions with no co-pay starting August 2012: Was the HHS thinking about any potential damaging consequences when this recommendation was made?
- Medical science should always prevail: Common sense isn’t so common when it’s used to trump scientific evidence. Politics should not win out over medical science. I expected for President Obama to focus more on the best medical and scientific research.
Though teen birth rates have steadily declined over the years, young women of color still experience unintended pregnancies at a disproportionate rate.
These are some reasons why not making Plan B available over-the-counter affects young women of color:
- Significant barriers: Youth of color experience more financial, cultural, and institutional barriers in obtaining health care compared to white youth, and many youth of color are receiving limited access to medical services that can aid in their overall health and wellbeing. Denying young women of color access to emergency contraception over-the-counter, when they are already receiving little or no medical services, places them in a precarious situation.
- Abortions on the rise: Women of color are having abortions at higher rates than white women, often because of financial constraints. With no access to Plan B, the rates of abortion will continue to rise for young women, especially young women of color.
- Limited proper identification: In order to get any type of prescription, one will need access to proper identification outside of a school ID. How many young people are walking around with proper identification? This can definitely be a problem for young immigrant women.
- Negotiating condom use: This places an even greater burden on young women of color who have difficulty in negotiating condom use with their sexual partners.
Yes, President Obama may have been thinking of his daughters when he defended the HHS’s decision to overrule the FDA. However, many young women of color may not be growing up in homes where they have access to healthcare services that the Obama children most likely have. In order to work towards decreasing the rates of unintended pregnancies and abortion for young women of color, we need to make Plan B available for all young people.
Take action with me and many others in telling the Obama administration and HHS to stop preventing the FDA from recommending scientifically based and sound decisions for the health and lives of women and young people.