08 December 2011

FDA Blocks OTC Emergency Contraception For Teens

In an unprecedented move, the Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius in the Obama Administration has killed a regulatory proposal from the Food and Drug Administration to allow girls under seventeen of reproductive age to have access to emergency contraception at pharmacies without a prescription just as women seventeen and older can right now.

The pills have to be taken within a few days of having sex to be effective (and the sooner they are taken, the more likely they are to work) so the move will lead to delays in the time need to acquire the drugs that materially increases the likelihood that teen girls who have unprotected sex will get pregnant. The drugs are safer than many other over the counter drugs and there is no evidnece that teen girls would misuse them.

The decision makes no sense from a policy perspective and is a simple case of the Obama Administration's FDA head bowing to conservative lobbying rooted in the anti-abortion movement, even though this high dose birth control pill form of contraception is no different in mechanism than other oral contraceptives (unlike RU-486 a drug based early term abortion inducing drug).

The follows a similarly head scratching move this fall, to back away from prior Obama Administration policy to refrain from using federal law enforcement resources against medical marijuana operations which are in compliance with state law.

Both prescription free emergency contraception for teens and tolerating medical marijuana operations in compliance with state law are common sense, easily defensible, moderate ways to deal with social issues that have broad public support, and even more broad support among the moderate Republican, independent and Democratic voters who might conceivably vote for President Obama in 2012 that are quite visible to these moderate voters. While many people oppose abortion in at least some circumstances, only the most hard core subset of the anti-abortion community opposes oral contraceptives and nobody is a strong advocate for unplanned teen pregnancies. While many people oppose legalizing marijuana outright, far fewer are opposed to making marijuana available with a physicians prescription under a system authorized by state law. These are the low hanging fruit of the abortion and drug war debates respectively, where the moderates overwhelmingly favor these liberal leaning compromise approaches.

Of course, it could be possible that President Obama is simply allowing his subordinates to make these decisions without his involvement, but the possibility that his appointees could be making such politically sensitive decisions without consulting with him is just as bad as the possibility that President Obama thinks that these decision make any political sense.

Rather than wooing social conservatives who will never support President Obama or any other Democrat in the 2012 election, or allowing unwise politically sensitive decisions to be made without his involvement, President Obama should be backing sensible, moderate, post-partisan compromises on hot button issues like the war on drugs and reproductive choice in the rare circumstances where they exist (something his 2008 primary opponent Hillary Clinton has been famously doing from her post as Secretary of State), and should instead be "triangulating" on social issues and other political issues where his backing from independents and moderate Democrats is less solid.

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