Obama Plan B Ruling: In Morning-After Pill Decision, Obama Administration Quits While It's Ahead


In one of the most shocking public-policy decisions in recent years, the contraceptive method commonly known as the "morning-after pill," or Plan B, is soon to be available without prescription for young women of any age. Initially wanting to keep over-the-counter dispensation of Plan B available only to those over 17, the Department of Justice retracted its appeal and cleared the path for Plan-B One-Step dispensation to young girls of any age. The debate broadened the gap between abortion supporters and opponents — the issue is no longer whether the fetus is too young to be aborted, but whether the mother is too young to purchase birth control. The motives behind the Obama administration's sudden shift of loyalties are puzzling, with arrows pointing at political strategizing rather than at maternal/paternal concern.

The topic of women's reproductive rights has been in the political limelight for nearly 10 years, commencing with President George W. Bush allowing Plan B over the counter for women 17 and older. However, in following with conservative policies, girls younger than 17 could only purchase the morning-after pill with a prescription, putting them in an even more difficult situation than the unwanted pregnancy itself. Physically, young women who were raped or did not engage in safe sex can avoid the longer-term effects of an abortion procedure if they take the pill within 72 hours. The pill no longer works once the mother has become pregnant

Plan B opponents further stress the importance of parental discourse, which would have been necessary for teens to acquire the drug up until 2006. However, young women growing up in low-income households with uninvolved parents would be bereaved of the option of taking Plan B and protecting themselves from the moment after sexual contact until before the egg is actually fertilized.

Plan B is less financially prohibitive than an abortion, with a price tag of about $50. While a side-by-side analysis would be tasteless, it is evident that for young women who were victimized but have the opportunity to use the pre-fertilization window, the availability of Plan B is life-changing. Anti-abortion proponents claim that the morning-after pill is trivializing sex and reproduction; on the contrary, safe-sex and contraceptive practices have lowered the percentage of teen pregnancies in recent years. 

President Obama, however, seems reticent about opening up the discourse on safe sex in his own home. He recently stated that having two daughters made him feel "uncomfortable" about lifting the limits to Plan B. What made him change his tune? According to the New York Times, "The Justice Department appears to have concluded that it might lose its case with the appeals court and would have to decide whether to appeal to the Supreme Court." And, of course, Obama wouldn't want to be accused of supporting sexual activity for young girls under 17 in an election year. However, the government could no longer avoid the unavoidable. Furthermore, moving the case forward and then losing at the Supreme Court level would have brought an unwanted stigma on the Obama administration and its presumably liberal agenda. Judge Korman, who issued the initial ruling against the Obama administration's Plan B prohibition, claimed that Health and Human Services Secretary KathleenSebelius’ decision to overrule the FDA “was politically motivated, scientifically unjustified, and contrary to agency precedent.”