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The Plan B Contraceptive Decision: Analysis, Outrage, Applause

The Plan B Contraceptive Decision: Analysis, Outrage, Applause

Picture of Barbara Feder Ostrov

There's plenty of of analysis, criticism and praise of HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius' controversial decision Wed. to prevent the "morning after" contraceptive pill Plan B from being sold over the counter at drugstores and to girls under 17 without a prescription. The top question: how much did election-year politics affect the decision?

President Barack Obama, father of two daughters, defended Sebelius today and said he was not involved in her decision. The New York Times quotes him:

The reason Kathleen made this decision is that she could not be confident that a 10-year-old or an 11-year-old going to a drug store should be able - alongside bubble gum or batteries - be able to buy a medication that potentially, if not used properly, could have an adverse effect.

Here's a roundup of the national conversation so far:

NPR's Julie Rovner reports today on the angry reactions from women's health advocates, who note that Sebelius' reasoning – that young girls might not use the OTC birth control correctly – sets a double standard for birth control. She quotes former assistant FDA commissioner Susan Wood:

They don't do this for pain medication, headache medication, cold medication. That's not part of how we assess products. Are we going to go and now do this with all products, or are contraceptives once again being singled out for this special treatment and this extra standard when we're talking about a very safe and very effective product that can really help women

Rovner also quotes positive reaction from conservatives: "I think that most reasonable people will agree that a young girl who's sexually active - seeing a medical professional is a positive thing," said Jeanne Monahan of the conservative group the Family Research Council.

The conservative National Review's  Greg Pfundstein sees a political motive for the decision:

The general consensus seems to be that the Obama team is sufficiently worried about the 2012 election to be willing to enrage an important segment of his loyal base over an issue everyone thought was squarely in the bag in order to avoid a culture-war controversy with the rest of the country.

And a New York Times editorial sums up what many observers, regardless of political affiliation, see behind the Plan B decision:

It is hard not to see this as anything but an effort to blunt Republican criticism in the presidential campaign or shield the F.D.A. budget from retaliation.


The Center for Health Journalism’s 2023 National Fellowship will provide $2,000 to $10,000 reporting grants, five months of mentoring from a veteran journalist, and a week of intensive training at USC Annenberg in Los Angeles from July 16-20. Click here for more information and the application form, due May 5.


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