Obama’s Cave-in on Emergency Contraception

You’ve probably seen the news today that the Obama administration has (again) caved-in to the right (including, of course, the churches) by overruling its own Food and Drug Administration’s decision that emergency contraceptives be available over-the-counter to anyone, including teenagers 16 years old and younger.  Thus, age restrictions will still be in place.  Here is what NOW has to say about it, including what it might mean to contraceptive coverage to women under the Affordable Care Act:

Emergency Contraception Betrayal:
Does President Obama Really Oppose Family Planning?

December 7, 2011

In a stunning betrayal of women, the Obama administration has sided with radical right politics in rejecting the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) decision to remove an age restriction on emergency contraception.

The experts on the FDA advisory committee resoundingly supported all available scientific and medical evidence, declaring Plan B One-Step to be safe and effective for all women over the counter, regardless of age.

Today, Plan B One-Step is available without prescription to women ages 17 and above. However, because of the age restriction, it is held behind the counter in pharmacies, and women are required to produce either proof of age or a doctor’s prescription to access the drug.

Two years ago, a district court found that the FDA’s earlier decision to limit access on the basis of age was motivated exclusively by politics. The court ordered the FDA to reconsider, and the FDA ultimately complied, recently deciding to make Plan B One-Step available over the counter to all women regardless of age.

It is an unusual and infuriating move for the Obama administration to overrule that decision, especially at a time when rumors are flying that the president is on the brink of caving in to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops by expanding religiously affiliated employers’ ability to deny contraceptive coverage to women under the Affordable Care Act.

NOW calls on the president to stop playing politics with the lives of women and girls. During the Bush years, women’s reproductive health was under constant attack. We don’t need more of the same from the Obama administration.

‘Week After Pill’ Approved

An FDA advisory panel has officially approved Ella, the newest version of emergency contraception. Dubbed the “week after pill,” the drug works similarly to Plan B, but extends the window of effectiveness to up to 5 days after unprotected sex (Plan B currently protects only up to 72 hours). Furthermore, Plan B decreases in effectiveness after the first 24 hours, while Ella’s effectiveness remains the same, whether taken 1 day after sex or 5.

Rates of pregnancy in Plan B users are very low, at 2.8%. But Ella’s are even lower, at 1.8%. And there are few side effects associated with the pill– the only one found in trials has been ‘dizziness’. It’s been found safe, reliable, and effective.

So what’s the problem? Well, anti-abortion rights advocates are fighting against the approval of the drug, insisting that it’s actually an abortion pill. The president of the anti-feminist group Concerned Women of America stated that Ella is “an unsafe abortion pill that men might slip to unsuspecting women.” Although the notion of that occurring is awful, this argument is clearly a cheap ploy to stop the distribution of the drug, while pretending to be concerned about women’s autonomy. The argument also has little legitimacy since the drug would only be available with a prescription, and it’s not even an abortion pill.

The chemical used in both is similar, but the effects are completely different. Ella works primarily by delaying ovulation. Additionally, the approving doctors noted that the drug showed little evidence of disrupting existing pregnancies, already attached to the uterine wall.

Ella could be particularly helpful in cases of rape or sexual assault, where a 72 hour window may be too small for a victim to seek emergency contraception. As this NYT article points out, in the United States, “more than 25,000 [women] become pregnant every year after being sexually assaulted.” Having to deal with the serious emotional consequences, along with navigating the legal system, may leave a rape victim with little time to access Plan B within 3 days.

I fully support increasing all women’s access to reproductive rights services, giving more women the power to control their own bodies. Ella seems to be a promising new option.