Obama, Sibelius and Plan B: Bad Science, Bad Ethics, Bad Policy

After FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg advocated that all women of child-bearing age be allowed to buy Plan B, the so-called “morning after pill,” without a prescription, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sibelius overruled the FDA with President Obama’s imprimatur. Sibelius said..

“After careful consideration of the FDA Summary Review, I have concluded that the data, submitted by Teva [the Plan B manufacturer], do not conclusively establish that Plan B One-Step should be made available over the counter for all girls of reproductive age. The average age of the onset of menstruation for girls in the United States is 12.4 years. However, about ten percent of girls are physically capable of bearing children by 11.1 years of age. 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.”

What’s going on here? What’s going on here is that the Administration wants to avoid a direct clash with those who regard human life as being created from the moment of conception. Sibelius’s implies without saying that a pill that ends an unwarranted pregnancy within 72 hours is an abortion pill, or at least she is crafting HHS policy for the pleasure of those who believe this. No science supports the contention that a fertilized egg that has yet to travel to the uterus—what Plan B prevents— is a human being; the position is a moral/religious one that exists independently of science.

The policy recommendation that the Plan B pill, Levonorgestrel, be widely available without a prescription is purely utilitarian. It is reasonably estimated that its easy availability could prevent up to 3 million unplanned pregnancies a year, and a corresponding number of abortions and unwanted births. On the other side of the scales are these considerations:

1. A minor could use the drug without consulting or informing her parents

2. The availability of the drug will encourage reckless and risky sexual conduct

3. An underage user might misuse the drug.

4. Some consider terminating a pregnancy at any point the equivalent of murder.

Not enough, especially because they range from specious to speculative to intellectually dishonest:

1. The minor is already having unprotected sex without informing parents. Throwing hurdles up in front of a child wanting to avoid the consequences of unprotected sex only increases the chances of an unplanned and unwanted child being borne by that child. And what about incest and rape? Should not young women be allowed the autonomy to take measures on their own to prevent the consequences of these calamities?

2. Increasing the likelihood of negative consequences of risky conduct as a strategy for suppressing that conduct is illogical and cruel. The same argument could be made for not developing a treatment for AIDS, or for keeping cigarettes as unhealthy as possible.

3. The FDA physicians and researchers, , supposedly the experts on this topic, have decided that the health dangers of misuse are not significant. This is their job. Why is the Administration doubting its own experts?

4. Current US policy and law holds otherwise—it’s not murder even to abort a fetus, which is not what happens with the Plan B drug.

The HHS rejection of the FDA recommendation repeats the actions of the Bush Administration in this controversy. Both decisions seed much more harm than they prevent. At least the Bush decision had integrity, despite being wrong-headed. For the Obama administration to pull the same stunt is subordinating integrity, logic, reason, science, consistency and principle to pure political calculation.

13 thoughts on “Obama, Sibelius and Plan B: Bad Science, Bad Ethics, Bad Policy

  1. One has to ask with all the work done to figure out how interrupt a females reproductive cycle, why none has seemly been done to do the same with males. It seems that all the risk is being placed on the females of the world and none on the males, it seems that males are just as much the blame so why is it the females are taking all the risk?

    Males do not seem be held to the same sort accounting as the female, where it is the female who stands to lose the most from a unplanned pregnancy. Most males can and do simply walk away from any problem, without repercussions.

    Where is the justice in this? If the male will not or cannot be held accountable why limit what few choices the women of the world have whatever their age is?

    We even have people placing roadblocks to even the proper education to help prevent unplanned pregnancies.

    What’s more these same people seem to have no interest in helping the young mothers and their children their ‘prolife policies’ end up creating.

    You really can’t tell children not to have sex, any more than you seeming can with adults, and for the same reasons. If you can’t keep adults from having unprotected sex, how can you expect children with fewer reasoning skills to do the same?

    Where is the Ethics in that?

    • If the male will not or cannot be held accountable why limit what few choices the women of the world have whatever their age is?

      Child support laws.

      Bradley Amendment.

      It seems that all the risk is being placed on the females of the world and none on the males, it seems that males are just as much the blame so why is it the females are taking all the risk?

      Life is not fair.

      Those who wield the power decide who bears the risk.

  2. As an add onto why Obama, Sibelius and Plan B = Bad Science, Bad Ethics, Bad Policy

    What makes people so sure that young girls are going to come in and buy such a pill in the first place when for the most part they don’t want to admit to adults to having sex in the first place? You can’t even get boys to buy condoms even if they would want too for the same reason.

    While more mature women would/might likely do so, could it be that is why the objection been made, to prevent them from having easy access to the ‘Plan-B’ pill given that it needs to be taken within 72hours, if they had to wait and make an appointment with a Dr. the delayed use of the Pill would no longer be timely or possibly effective.

    The policy even prevents mothers from getting the pill for their daughters if they wished to do so.

  3. While more mature women would/might likely do so, could it be that is why the objection been made, to prevent them from having easy access to the ‘Plan-B’ pill given that it needs to be taken within 72hours, if they had to wait and make an appointment with a Dr. the delayed use of the Pill would no longer be timely or possibly effective.

    The trick is to have the pill before needing it.

    • Older women might be able and willing to so plan ahead, but then just how many younger females plan ahead thinking I’m going to have unprotected sex tonight, or in the next few nights.

      But I have to agree getting the pill ahead of time even if it was not needed within a few months time is sound thinking ahead and maybe should even taught that way. Why think of it after the fact instead of before? That would help take care of not getting some adult supervision such as a Doctor or a health clinic.

      About Law: Laws about child support are all well and good, but you do not have to look very far to see they don’t always work. (You can say that about most any law for that matter)

  4. No science supports the contention that a fertilized egg that has yet to travel to the uterus—what Plan B prevents— is a human being; the position is a moral/religious one that exists independently of science.

    So what is the species then?

  5. Michael, as the term was used in the post, “a human being” does not mean “made of human tissue.” My fingernail clippings are biologically human — what other species are they? — but they are not “a human being.”

  6. My fingernail clippings are biologically human — what other species are they

    They are also dead .

    A more apt example is organ donation. Organ donors can not be dead absent the death of the donated organs, because cells (let alone organs) containing their unique DNA code are clearly alive.

  7. “avoid the consequences” Is a maybe the key factor here. Some people would want to avoid any and all consequence of their bad choices. And others would force them to face up to them no matter how hash the outcome.

    Forgiveness seems out of the question for some, and for others too much forgiveness leads to those thinking there are no consequences to worry about.

    Right to life people feel that abortion is akin to murder, I say if that is how they feel then every female that has one should be put on death row and executed as murder is a crime punishable by death. And age should not matter. There can be no forgiveness for murder.

    Even the use of the pill should be made illegal as it stops the natural creation of life. Women do not have the right to say I will not bear children.

    • These do not follow, of course. Making the consequences of a reasonable argument ridiculous is fun, but it’s not fair argument, and not particularly helpful in resolving a legitimate and complex ethical issue.

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