Forty years after the Supreme Court affirmed a woman’s constitutional right to privacy, including the right to choose, we shouldn’t have to remind people that when it comes to a woman’s health, no politician should get to decide what’s best for you. —President Barack Obama, April 26, 2013
Brilliant sentiment, Mr. President. Unfortunately, right about the time Barack Obama became the first sitting president to speak at a Planned Parenthood event, lawyers at his Department of Justice were putting the finishing touches on their appeal of a court ruling that ordered emergency contraception (EC) be available over-the-counter to all women, regardless of age. The irony of this bait and switch would be entertaining if it weren’t so infuriating.
Once again, politics have trumped science, and it’s women and girls who pay the price. This decision ignores their needs as well as the scientific consensus that emergency contraception (the so-called morning-after pill or Plan B) is safe. I’m tired of the rhetoric and hyperbole. I’m tired of women and girls being prevented from accessing health care that is proven to be safe and effective. I’m tired of politicians who think it’s just dandy for them to insert their personal judgment while ignoring the realities of women’s lives. We should all be sick and tired of having to fight for our reproductive rights. Women of any age shouldn’t be denied access to medically necessary and proven care, or prevented from making reproductive decisions within the dictates of their own moral or religious codes. It’s as simple as that.
You’ll be hearing a lot about Plan B and morning-after pills and EC in the coming days. Here are the top ten reasons why we think the Obama administration is wrong to deny women and girls access to this basic preventive health care.
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1. Half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended. EC offers a last chance to prevent pregnancy after unprotected intercourse or birth control failure.
2. The administration wants to make EC available only to individuals age 15 and older. How many people do you know who are younger than 16 and have state-issued IDs with their actual birth date? Under the Obama-supported plan, these young people would have to hold passports to purchase EC, a ridiculous requirement given that less than 5 percent of all Americans—of any age—have passports.
3. Several studies have determined that no deaths or serious complications have been causally linked to EC.
4. There are no situations in which the risks of using combined or progestin-only EC outweigh the benefits.
5. Scientists have concluded that “repeated use of EC is safer than pregnancy, in particular when the pregnancy is unintended and women do not have access to safe early abortion services.”
6. One challenge to making EC more widely available is the belief that women may be less diligent with their ongoing contraception. But regular use of EC is far less effective than other contraceptive methods. I think women understand that “E” stands for “emergency” and will behave accordingly.
7. One study demonstrated that educating teens about EC does not increase their sexual activity levels or use of EC, but it does increase their knowledge about proper administration of the drug.
8. Emergency contraception is sold over the counter in six countries and can be obtained directly from a pharmacist, without a prescription, in 54 countries.
9. Many medical groups, including the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Society for Adolescent Medicine support making Plan B available over-the-counter without restrictions.
10. When the Obama administration made its December 2011 decision to limit access to EC, it went against the recommendations of medical professionals who’d spent years researching this issue. As Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg put it:
The Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) determined that the product was safe and effective in adolescent females, that adolescent females understood the product was not for routine use, and that the product would not protect them against sexually transmitted diseases. Additionally, the data supported a finding that adolescent females could use Plan B One-Step properly without the intervention of a healthcare provider.
Since the 2012 election, it has become vogue for politicians of all stripes to say they care about women, girls, and the issues that uniquely affect us. We get it. Politicians need us in order to win. But women can smell the difference between expedient positions and sincerely held beliefs. We deserve serious action on the issues we care about, from reproductive health to equal pay, education to paid sick days. Lip service alone is not acceptable, and pandering is just plain insulting. The old adage passed down from mother to child comes into play here: Remember, actions speak louder than words.