The Obama administration blocked over-the-counter sales of Plan B One-Step, the “morning-after” pill, to girls under 17, and New York Times reporters Jackie Calmes (pictured) and Gardiner Harris sniffed out a political move to assuage “conservatives" in Friday’s “Obama Backs Aide’s Stance on Morning-After Pill.”
While the Times mentioned “conservatives” four times in discussing the surprise decision by Kathleen Sebelius, secretary for Health and Human Services, there were zero “liberals” labeled in opposition, merely “women’s rights” groups -- as if all women would favor the sale. And while "anti-abortion groups" were identified, there were no "pro-abortion" or even "pro-choice" groups on the other side, merely harmless "reproductive rights groups."
President Obama, who took office pledging to put science ahead of politics, averted a skirmish with conservatives in the nation’s culture wars on Thursday by endorsing his health secretary’s decision to block over-the-counter sales of an after-sex contraceptive pill to girls under age 17.
The administration action inevitably raised questions about whether politics was trump in this instance -- especially from disappointed supporters in the scientific and women’s rights communities. Mr. Obama, who had criticized how his predecessor made decisions on issues like contraceptives, sought to dispel that idea in remarks to White House reporters.
“I did not get involved in the process,” he quickly asserted.
Mr. Obama said the decision was made by his secretary of health and human services, Kathleen Sebelius. On Wednesday, in a rare move, she overruled the Food and Drug Administration, which had recommended that the morning-after pill Plan B One-Step is safe and should be sold without a prescription to people under 17, just as it is now to those who are 17 and older.
The president’s remarks suggested social and cultural concerns even as he said Ms. Sebelius had acted out of scientific concerns; in particular, she cited the manufacturer’s failure to study whether girls as young as 11 could safely use the drug. And the issue has been a matter of political contention, with conservative and anti-abortion groups opposed and public health and women’s rights groups in favor.
Yet the response of those disappointed by the administration’s decision was more muted than in many such controversies, reflecting a broad sense that this was not a fight to pick with Republicans and conservative groups. On Capitol Hill, Representative Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic minority leader and a stalwart of reproductive rights groups, neither endorsed nor criticized the decision, deferring to Ms. Sebelius even as she praised the F.D.A. commissioner, Dr. Margaret Hamburg.