The Plan B Controversy, or How Not To Rally Your Base
Yesterday, the FDA was ready to approve over-the-counter access to Plan B, the drug that can prevent pregnancy if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, regardless of age (and for the millionth time: Plan B does not end a pregnancy). Currently, those under seventeen must get a prescription for the drug. But in a move that has shocked women’s health advocates, the Department of Health and Human Services vetoed the FDA’s decision.
In February, Teva Pharmaceuticals asked the FDA to drop the ban in light of two studies which, together, confirmed that girls between eleven and seventeen years of age understood the package instructions and could use Plan B safely and effectively. Finally, this week, the FDA officially recommended the change.
Yesterday, however, in an unprecedented move – no health secretary has ever done so – the Department of Health and Human Services overrode the FDA and will not allow girls under seventeen to purchase Plan B without a prescription. Secretary of HHS Kathleen Sebelius, in a news release, explained her actions by arguing that “the data provided as part of the actual use study and the label comprehension study are not sufficient to support making Plan B One-Step available to all girls 16 and younger, without talking to a health care professional.”
While the language is vague, the implication is quite clear: young girls – those who most of all need easy access to safe and various methods of contraception – have less control and agency over their own bodies. If this is the administration’s way of toeing the line between liberal and conservative policies in an attempt to win the election, Obama needs to reevaluate how and why he won the election – and how best to differentiate himself from his conservative counterpoint.
While Newt and Mitt are battling for the Republican nomination, Romney seems more likely at this point to be the 2012 candidate. The perennial charge against Romney is his flip-floppery; one of those charges is specifically in the arena of women’s health and contraception, where he has taken a hard conservative stance on access to birth control; in fact, he wants to eliminate Title X, which provides federal funding for family planning. The best way to posit oneself positively against that backwards image is to take thoughtful yet firm and resolute stances on political issues of the day – not to counter Romney’s constantly shifting positions by simply standing immobile somewhere-off-to-the-right-of-center-ish. Since, contrary to the opinion of many conservative pundits, women’s health is not nearly as controversial as a select few want to believe, Obama should have stood by the FDA’s decision and proudly asserted that the government agency took the necessary time to examine the science and reasonably concluded that Plan B should be available without a prescription.
It’s to the point where Obama isn’t even playing it safe – he’s actually endangering the future of his campaign with these kinds of decisions. In fact, however crazy many of the Republican nominees are, Obama may need to take at least one lesson from them: talk to your base. Rally the base. This is ostensibly what he was doing on Tuesday in Kansas, but the message would be a bit stronger if those words were accompanied by a thing I like to call an “action.” One action would be to support the FDA as it uses science to conclude that, yes, young girls understand the instructions on medical packaging and understand how to use Plan B effectively. If Sebelius is going to assert that the science is inconclusive, she needs to get more specific, and fast.
The worst aspect of the Plan B decision is that the actions of the Department of Health and Human Services have turned this into a controversy that would otherwise have riled some anger on Fox News and subsequently faded from conversation. In the long-term, simply allowing the FDA to do its job probably would have attracted much less attention in the general election than allowing HHS to take unprecedented action to stop complete over-the-counter access to Plan B. In some ways, that’s what happened during the last changes in Plan B laws, when a federal judge in 2009 that finally ordered the FDA to make the drug available over-the-counter to 17-year-olds claimed that the previous ban was influenced by ideology and politics as opposed to science and women’s health. If this issue once again ends up in the court system, the negative impact on perceptions of Obama’s leadership and decision-making is inevitable.
At the end of the day, this move will alienate more voters than it could ever garner. While no one with liberal-leaning beliefs will vote for either Newt or Romney, for many Democrats – especially those with a vested interest in women’s health – the decision will cultivate an apathetic attitude towards organizing on Obama’s behalf. Furthermore, health care is not going to be the issue to decide the 2012 election – I can’t imagine that the economy won’t be the primary factor. Given that, Obama had little to lose and a lot of credit to gain by taking a strong stance here. It leaves me not only disappointed, but worried.
More Faster Politics:
Follow us on twitter@thefastertimes
- 1 First Openly Straight Figure Skater Comes Forward
- 2 Brooklyn Man Now Living Entirely Off Own Beard Garden
- 3 “Cra Cra” Now Official Diagnosis in New DSM (DSM-5)
- 4 OfficeMax Marketing Director Struggling to Make Staplers ‘Sexy’ and ‘Conversational’
- 5 Homeless Guy Woos Silicon Valley VCs with Low-Tech Crowdfunding Startup
- 6 Area Man Tailors Life To Be More Relevant To His Hulu Advertisements
- 7 Fan Banging Furiously on Glass Could Be the Difference in Hockey Playoffs
- 8 Survey: 88% of Eagles Fans Too Drunk To Spell Nnamdi Asomugha Last Season
- 9 Local Mom Won’t Stop Being First Person to Like Every Goddamn Thing Son Posts to Facebook
- 10 Shaq Confident He Will Eventually Make Funny Quip on TNT