- New York Times Editorial Board
On Wednesday, his administration betrayed both reproductive rights and science. The Justice Department announced that it would appeal a federal court ruling that would make morning-after pills available without a prescription for girls and women of all ages.
In 2011, the secretary of health and human services, Kathleen Sebelius, overruled the Food and Drug Administration, which had decided, based on scientific evidence, that the pills would be safe and appropriate “for all females of child-bearing potential.” Ms. Sebelius arbitrarily determined that only women 17 and older should have access to the drug.
Then, last month, citing the political nature of Ms. Sebelius’s intervention and finding no “coherent justification” for it, Judge Edward Korman of United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York ordered the F.D.A. to make emergency contraceptives available over the counter to all women, with no age restrictions.
The move to appeal the court ruling came just a day after the F.D.A. staked out a new position, setting the age restriction on nonprescription access to the most well-known brand of emergency contraception — Plan B One-Step — at 15 years old and telling pharmacies to stock the product on display shelves rather than behind the counter. It also said purchasers would have to prove their age by showing a driver’s license, birth certificate, passport or other official form of identification.
The compromise guidelines are a step in the right direction but still inadequate. There is no good reason to limit the product to those 15 and older. And the ID requirement represents a significant barrier for a time-sensitive drug. Many teenagers don’t have any kind of ID.
The administration’s continued stubbornness may please some conservative groups critical of the president. But it will hurt girls and women and 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.
Lack of access to safe contraception will not stop adolescents from having sex. Girls who have sex should not be punished with unintended pregnancies.