A Roundup of Editorials Criticizing President Obama’s Plan B Emergency Contraception Decision

May 8, 2013 | 12:55 pm
Michael Halpern
Former Contributor

On Tuesday, District Court Judge Edward Korman spoke incredibly strongly against the Obama administration’s decision to appeal his order that would require the Food and Drug Administration to use science to determine whether over the counter access to emergency contraception is safe for women of all ages.

“The process had been corrupted by political influence,” said Judge Korman at a hearing regarding the administration’s request for more time to appeal his original decision. Salon.com reported that the judge was unmoved by the administration’s arguments:

Korman repeatedly slammed his hand down on the table for emphasis, interrupting the government counsel’s every other sentence with assertions like, “You’re just playing games here,” “You’re making an intellectually dishonest argument,” “You’re basically lying,” “This whole thing is a charade,” “I’m entitled to say this is a lot of nonsense, am I not?” and “Contrary to the baloney you were giving me …” He also accused the administration of hypocrisy for opposing voter ID laws but being engaged in the “suppression of the rights of women” with the ID requirement for the drug.

This is not surprising. The law requires drugs to be approved solely on the basis of the best available science—which is as it should be. And because there is no logical justification for the administration’s continued stubborn refusal to accept the judgment of its own scientists and scientific advisers and every major medical body with expertise in this area (including the always-so-radical American Medical Association), Department of Justice lawyers are forced to make arguments that ignore the law and conflate moral arguments with scientific ones.

Fortunately, many newspaper editorial boards are seeing through the administration’s smokescreen. In addition to editorials praising the judge’s original decision (for example, here, here, here, here, and here), several editorial boards have weighed in over the past week.

I’ve compiled a sampling below. Feel free to leave others in the comments.

The Los Angeles Times: Obama’s Plan B Misstep

The Obama administration overstepped its legal authority — and injected politics into what should have been a scientific decision — when it ordered the FDA to limit the availability of a common morning-after contraceptive without prescription to girls and women 17 and older. The FDA had already evaluated the drug and determined that it was safe for females of all ages and should be available to all….The Justice Department’s decision, announced Wednesday, to appeal [Judge Korman’s] ruling is a mistake. Not only does it compound the administration’s first legal misstep, but it is a disappointing and disturbing attempt to limit contraceptive rights without any scientific justification for doing so.

The New York Times: Putting Politics Ahead of Science

Appearing before Planned Parenthood’s annual convention last Friday, President Obama pledged his continuing support for women’s reproductive rights. In a speech before the National Academy of Sciences on Monday, Mr. Obama promised to keep science a sphere “not subject to politics” or “skewed by an agenda.” On Wednesday, his administration betrayed both reproductive rights and science…the administration’s continued stubbornness…is bound to undermine Mr. Obama’s credibility when he calls for principled, evidence-based policy-making on other issues, like global warming. The Justice Department’s legal argument, moreover, is incoherent. In court documents, it claims that Judge Korman’s order improperly interferes with the F.D.A.’s “scientific judgments” pertaining to the drug approval process. But it was Ms. Sebelius’s interference with science that sparked Judge Korman’s ruling in the first place.

The Washington Post: The Legal Mess on Emergency Contraception

[The Obama Administration’s decision] leaves the FDA with a position inconsistent with the judgment of its scientific experts, who recommended unrestricted access. The Obama administration’s unprecedented decision to override those experts, Judge Korman wrote, was ‘arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable’…If Congress and the president want to consider whether the sale of emergency contraceptives to young teenagers has unique moral implications that demand special government restrictions, they should have that debate.

The Houston Chronicle: Plan B and Age Limits

Judge Edward R. Korman of the Federal District Court in Brooklyn held that the Obama administration’s age limit on Plan B was “politically motivated, scientifically unjustified, and contrary to agency precedent,” and should be overturned. The Justice Department is appealing this decision, but that is the wrong move both politically and for policy. Studies show that providing teens with access to Plan B does not increase sexual activity but does help prevent unintended pregnancies and reduce abortions. The American Academy of Pediatrics endorses providing Plan B over the counter for these very reasons, and both pro-choice and anti-abortion groups alike should find common cause.

The Tampa Bay Times: Plan B Appeal a Setback for Public Health

President Barack Obama told an audience at the National Academy of Sciences last month that his administration would not let politics interfere with science. Now the president has broken that promise. The Justice Department has announced that it will appeal a federal court ruling that grants unlimited access to emergency contraception for younger teens. What is certain is that Obama is sacrificing the reproductive freedom and health of girls by ignoring the evidence and playing politics.

The Louisville Courier Journal: Obama’s Birth Control Filibuster

In dodging a federal judge’s order to make the “morning-after pill” available over the counter to women and girls without age restrictions or prescriptions, the president appears to be doing exactly what he has scolded opponents for doing on hot-button issues: ignoring science [and] caving to political pressure…the president should heed his own words and get the nation out of the 1950s when it comes to women’s health.

The Spokane Spokesman-Review: Decisions on Plan B Must be Based on Science

The long, strange trip for an important drug continues, as politics keeps harassing science. On Tuesday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced it will allow the emergency contraceptive pill Plan B One-Step to be sold over the counter to girls as young as 15. The feds’ action came just five days before the deadline set by U.S. District Judge Edward Korman nearly a month ago. He tossed the previous age limit of 17, set by U.S Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, saying the FDA’s own scientists concluded that teens could handle the drug just as competently and safely as adults.

The Baltimore Sun: Plan B restrictions — better, but not best

In reality, the only outrage ought to be directed at the White House and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for not going far enough and lifting age restrictions entirely, as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was ordered to do last month by a federal judge in New York who recognized that the Obama administration had put politics ahead of science. Instead, the administration has unwisely decided to appeal that order. The FDA’s own experts judged two years ago that Plan B is safe and effective and should be available to women of any age. But for some reason, Ms. Sebelius seems dead-set against it. In December 2011, campaign politics may have played a role when she decided that customers would have to be 17 years or older. But why now?

Bloomberg News: The Morning-After Pill Should Be Available to All Ages

By proposing two different age restrictions within the space of a year and a half, the administration only demonstrates how arbitrary both are. In their evaluation, experts at the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research — including obstetrician-gynecologists and pediatricians — determined that adolescent girls understand that emergency contraception isn’t to be used routinely. If there is cause to think those experts are wrong or that there is some other measure of maturity that applies for emergency contraception, we haven’t been told of it…the court was right to side with science, leaving parents to establish their own moral guidelines.

The New Haven Register: FDA Morning After Pill Ruling Falls Short

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration fell far short of protecting young women when it announced Tuesday that the Plan B “morning after” emergency contraception pill would be moved from behind the counter of pharmacies to regular store shelves and that teens as young as 15 would be able to purchase it as long as they show proof of age. Scientific studies have shown that Plan B is safe for use by any female capable of getting pregnant, regardless of age.

The Santa Cruz Sentinel: Access to Contraception

“The Justice Department on Wednesday decided it would appeal a federal court ruling that would make so-called morning-after pills available without a prescription for girls and women of all ages. The announcement ignores the fact that two years ago, after reviewing all available research, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration concluded that the most common form of the emergency contraception, Plan B One-Step, could be used safely and effectively to prevent pregnancy by girls and women of all ages, and that major medical groups have long recommended unrestricted access to the pill…The political maneuvering surrounding the morning-after pill dates back years.”

The Seattle Times: Obama administration should not put restrictions on Plan B

“The federal Food and Drug Administration says morning-after contraceptives are safe, including for adolescent girls. The drugs should be made available over the counter and without age restrictions…the president’s search for middle ground in the caustic emergency-contraception/abortion debate should not threaten the health and well-being of women and girls.”