On December 7th, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius refused to lift age restrictions on the over-the-counter sale of emergency contraception, overruling a decision by the Food and Drug Administration. Plan B One-Step, according to the New York Times, has been available without a prescription to women ages 17 and older, but girls under 17 will continue to need a prescription. Reproductive rights supporters, including Planned Parenthood vice-president Dr. Vanessa Cullins, Sharon Camp of the Guttmacher Institute, and Andrew Beck of the ACLU, were very unhappy with Sebelius' decision.
To provide background, emergency contraceptive (EC) pills can be taken up to 120 hours after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy. EC is also offered to rape victims as part of sexual assault forensic exams. EC pills prevent pregnancy by delaying or inhibiting ovulation, inhibiting fertilization, and possibly by preventing implantation of a fertilized egg in the endometrium, according to Princeton University's emergency contraception website. EC pills do not induce abortion once pregnancy occurs, and are not the same as abortion pills.
Still, EC has been a frequent target of right-wing anti-abortion activists who equate it with abortion, as discussed in a prior post. Not surprisingly, several Religious Right voices were delighted about this news.
First, in a December 7th press release, Jeanne Monahan of the the Family Research Council wrote that Secretary Sebelius was right to in her decision not to make EC available over the counter to adolescents. Monahan claimed that giving girls access to Plan B would have "bypassed" medical care for sexually active adolescents. Furthermore, she claimed that Plan B could be given to sexually abused or trafficked girls without their consent. Finally, Monahan reverted to anti-abortion attacks on EC, claiming that Plan B can "act in a way that can destroy life by preventing implantation."
Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League, penned a commentary piece at USA Today that praised Sebelius' decision. Scheidler claimed that the "pro-abortion lobby" wants Sebelius to reverse her decision and therefore "sacrifice" adolescent girls' health for the sake of their "radical ideology." Furthermore, he claimed that if EC were available to girls over the counter, it would foment discord between children and parents, while encouraging both girls and older predators to engage in high-risk sexual behavior.
Anti-abortion preacher Lou Engle tweeted about the decision as well. In a December 6th message on Twitter, Engle wrote, "Have you ever seen a woman under the wound of guilt who has used the morning after pill? Did I or didn't I forever." Also, in a December 8th response to a woman who asked if EC and the abortion pill were the same, Lou Engle tweeted, "the morning after pill prevents a fertilized egg from being implanted thereby destroying life after conception."
It is important to remember that the struggle for reproductive rights is not just about abortion, but also about contraception and a host of other issues. Secretary Sebelius' decision, as well as the Religious Right glee surrounding it, serve as a reminder that the struggle continues.
To read additional commentary, visit the following links.
The Pump Handle: Shocking move from Secretary Sebelius on Plan B
Salon: Obama's Woman Problem
NPR: A Very Bad Plan: How Selebius Endangered Our Girls
RH Reality Check: In Astounding Move, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius Overrules FDA Recommendation to Make Plan B Over-the-Counter