Obama calls decision on Plan B 'common sense'

Posted: December 09, 2011

WASHINGTON - President Obama said Thursday that it was just common sense to keep girls under the age of 17 from being able to buy a morning-after contraceptive pill off a drugstore shelf. Citing his own two daughters, Obama said: "I think most parents would probably feel the same way."

Plenty of pediatric leaders and women's advocacy groups did not, as reaction flowed in to the administration's decision a day earlier to prevent the over-the-counter sale of the anti-pregnancy drug to sexually active girls of younger ages.

Critics said politics had trumped science, again.

"When President Obama took office, he pledged the administration's commitment to scientific integrity," said Cynthia Pearson of the National Women's Health Network.

At issue is a pill that can prevent pregnancy if taken soon after unprotected sex.

It is available without a prescription only to those 17 and older who can prove their age - and that will now remain the case after Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled Food and Drug Administration scientists. They were preparing to let the pill be sold without a prescription or age limit.

Obama rallied around Sebelius' arguments that younger girls might not be able to understand the medicine's labeling or use the pill properly.

And, clearly aware of the political implications, he insisted he was not involved.

"I will say this, as the father of two young daughters: I think it is important for us to make sure that, you know, we apply some common sense to various rules when it comes to over-the-counter medicine," he said in a brief White House news conference.

Obama's daughter Malia is 13. His daughter Sasha is 10.

He said that as he understood it, Sebelius was wary of a 10- or 11-year-old going into a drugstore and buying a medication - one on the shelves next to "the bubble gum and batteries" - that could be harmful if not used properly.

Stores, though, were never likely to put it near chewing gum or batteries. It would go on shelves by condoms, spermicides, and pregnancy tests.

The rhetorical emphasis on the potential for 11- and 12-year-old girls to use the pill also rankled advocates.

There are no age restrictions on other over-the-counter drugs that could potentially have serious side-effects in young children.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, fewer than 1 percent of 11-year-old girls are sexually active, but almost half have had sex by their 17th birthdays, most of those beginning at age 15 or 16.

Sebelius' decision pleased conservative critics.

"The FDA did not have the data to support a decision of this magnitude," said Rep. Joe Pitts (R., Pa.). "The secretary pointed out obvious deficiencies in the research and acted in the interest of young girls."

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