December 7, 2011 Print
Kathleen Sebelius

Sebelius Blocks Teens’ OTC Use
of Plan B

by Karla Dial

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius today denied a petition to make a possible abortifacient drug available to women of all ages without a prescription — overriding a Food and Drug Administration decision saying it would be OK.

Since 2009, Plan B One-Step — also known as the “morning-after pill,” because it may prevent pregnancy if taken within 72 hours following intercourse — has been available over the counter to women 17 and older; girls 16 and under are required to have a prescription. In February, the drug manufacturer, Teva Women’s Health Inc., asked the FDA for permission to make it available to all ages without a prescription — a move that would have put it on store shelves instead of behind pharmacists’ counters.

Based on a study showing most minor girls could read and understand the label on the box, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg was set to make the change, until Sebelius stepped in to block it.

In a letter, Sebelius noted that very young girls — 11- and 12-year-olds — are now reaching puberty, but “it is commonly understood that there are significant cognitive and behavioral differences between older adolescent girls and the youngest girls of reproductive age, which I believe are relevant.”

Former Concerned Women for American President Wendy Wright — now the acting interim director of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute in New York City — has debated abortion activists many times about the problem of making Plan B widely available to girls.

“This has got to be one of the biggest surprises of my life!” she said. “Is it political? This decision isn’t courting one side or another. It’s just reflecting the facts about this drug. (Sebelius’s) letter reflects a parent’s concern, and a very mainstream understanding that kids so young need a parent’s and doctor’s intervention. I’m extremely surprised and extremely pleased that she is showing this kind of concern for minor girls, because it reflects the view of many parents.”

Conservatives have long been concerned that should access to Plan B become easier, predators will find it easier to use to exploit women and young girls.

“I saw a study that had been done in Thailand, and it showed the most frequent buyer of the morning-after pill was men, who would often slip it to women without even telling them what it was,” Wright said. “I think Sebelius’s statement may also reflect that concern. There is a need for a health care provider to intervene. It’s necessary to see if the girl is being abused or exploited, to make sure she doesn’t have a sexually transmitted disease.”

Read FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg’s statement on Plan B One-Step.

Read HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’s letter to the FDA overriding its decision.

Read CitizenLink’s analysis of the morning-after pill.