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March 4, 2015

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Plan B and the politics of parenthood

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To advocates of universal access to emergency contraception, President Barack Obama’s resistance to the cause is a sign of cowardice.

It’s “The Politics of Prude,” according to a recent Slate article, in which writer Emily Bazelon argues that a federal court ruling calling for the Food and Drug Administration to lift age and sale restrictions on Plan B “exposes the hypocrisy of the Obama administration — its sacrifice of science to political expediency.”

This argument is rooted in a two-pronged theory: first, that the drug is safe and therefore should be available to anyone who wants it; and second, that the administration’s opposition to unfettered access amounts to re-election pandering to crazy moralists who believe sex, teenagers and the morning-after pill are a bad combo.

Medical researchers say it’s safe if used properly.

Yet the political calculus isn’t as simple as it looks. On one hand, Plan B opponents and proponents break down along the usual ideological lines. Anti-abortion advocates oppose Plan B, and women’s health advocacy groups support the broadest possible access.

But there is an in-between: pro-choice people who still feel queasy about girls, 16 and younger, making their way to the local pharmacy to buy the morning-after pill, no prescription or parental notification required. Their daughters still need signed permission slips for school activities and can’t legally buy alcohol. But under this court ruling, a drug that prevents pregnancy after unprotected sex would be available, not far from the lip gloss.

As the Boston Herald’s Margery Eagan wrote, “So my head gets it, in real world, 2013, why there’s more good than bad in Plan B; why, even we need it. But I don’t like it, or that need, one bit.”

Neither do I. But also I wonder why any parent — including Obama — must accept the premise of more good than bad as the starting point of Plan B discussion for girls 16 and younger. Maybe it’s better than abortion or middle-school motherhood. But it’s not better than abstinence, or, in lieu of no sex, at the very least, protected sex.

The president has two daughters, Sasha, 11, and Malia, 14. He is at the point of life where this may be more personal than political.

Instead of representing the politics of prude, maybe he represents the politics of parenthood, in which parents have the right to challenge the idea of sex between middle-school girls and boys. Because they know that once their children have sex, pregnancy is a possible outcome and, with it, the need for Plan B. No parent wants that for their children.

As summarized in Slate, Plan B was approved as a prescription drug in 1999. Lawyers filed a petition to sell the drug over the counter, without a prescription, and an FDA advisory panel agreed with the move to broaden access. However, during the early years of the Bush administration, FDA officials refused to grant approval. In 2006, the FDA allowed over-the-counter sales for women 18 and older but kept the drug prescription-only for girls 17 and younger.

In 2011, Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, blocked an effort by the FDA to make the pill universally available. In what was viewed as pre-election positioning at the time, Obama issued a statement backing Sebelius because she “could not be confident that a 10-year-old or an 11-year-old” going into a drugstore, should be able — alongside bubble gum or batteries — to buy a medication that potentially, if not used properly, could end up having an adverse effect.

Sebelius’ ruling was challenged, and now a federal judge in New York state is giving the FDA 30 days to lift any restrictions on Plan B.

Federal District Court Judge Edward Korman was tough on the FDA, saying the agency “has engaged in intolerable delays ... that could accurately be described as administrative agency filibuster,” and even tougher on Sebelius. He called her decision “arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable.”

On the day of Korman’s ruling, the White House said the president supported the Sebelius decision after she made it, “and he supports that decision today.” Whether that means the ruling will be appealed is still unclear. If it isn’t, the political calculus will be clear. He’s on the other side of those crazy moralists who worry about the message behind Plan B access for all.

Joan Vennochi writes for the Boston Globe.

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  1. Roe v Wade was passed in 1973 in part to ensure safe and secure access to abortions by women in the U.S.A. Please tell me how after 40 years, Dr. Kermit Gosnell, and his medical staff of incompetents, in Philadelphia can be killing mothers and babies for years? None of the mainstream media are outraged and reporting it. In fact, just the opposite. Silence is golden.

    Carmine D

  2. This is a highly debatable subject to say the least. In my mind, keep this drug in a locked glass display, so that IF a young lady inquired, could. Mind you, I am NOT for using abortions as birth control. But as a professional teacher working in a pregnant minor program, I have witnessed the torment of some,each with their own stories, and I stop at judging them.

    For young people, early sex can happen with innocent exploration, infatuation, or rape. Over the years, I have had the opportunity to serve all such cases. Our childhood guides our lives into adulthood, so when a child had LACKED quality adult guidance and supervision, or been abused, or molested, or has incurred negative experiences in their psyche, they are left mixed up and to their available resources when in trouble. What would YOU do in their situation?

    As much as I cringe over Plan B, I find it offers an alternative, however regretable alternative it is. With a crumbling infrastructure in Nevada and the USA, turning to a lifetime of Welfare/Social Services not only dooms the young girl, it dooms their unplanned child. Fostercare systems are clogged with children needing placement, which is a whole other story. Our schools are half full of such children who were born from "children" and we now see the results: high illiteracy, high numbers on Free/Reduced Federal Lunch Program, lives in Section 8 housing, or worse, homeless. This is the outcome of a few decades of PRO-Life stances and policy making in our American society. It is NOT a sustainable path, and furthermore, it has created an underclass within the poverty structure.

    We all want to know that we were conceived and born into love and acceptance. It is that kind of love that carries us through our lives as we struggle to find our place under the sun. As parents, we want to offer our child(ren) the best possible and available in life, and that our children will grow to be even greater than ourselves.

    Can a child born into poverty and despair survive and do well? Yes, but rare few do. It is a lifetime of hell getting there for them. It is struggle each and every day. It is the kind of pain one becomes immune and numb to, just as a mechanism to survive and move forward each day.
    Part 1 of 2
    Blessings and Peace,

  3. Part 2 of 2
    As an educator, working and serving in the day to day school trenches, I do not see all those who advocate PRO-Life running to the at-risk schools and volunteering their time, resources/money, and energy to assist these children born from children, to make the plight of these outcomes of unplanned pregnancies any better. Where are these people?

    The humane thing to do, is offer the alternative/Plan B, with a devise that verbally gives the instructions and warnings (a device type that we all see in our fancy and fun greeting cards that sing, for example). Hopefully, the mental health system in our states and country will vastly improve in the near future, and access to counseling will be more available.

    Again, this is a highly charged moral, ethical, and time critical issue that truly affects our homes, neighborhoods, communities, state, and our whole country, and there are many points of view that are as valid and should be considered and respected. I offer what I know and have had personal experience with, without bringing my religion, or moralizing into the picture.

    If we judge anyone outside ourselves, we should walk a mile in their shoes first before speaking. This can be done by getting involved.

    Blessings and Peace,