Today was one of those “only in Washington” days where I attended two conferences on human rights. The first one was held at George Washington University and the focus was on business and human rights. A second conference was held across town at the Newseum and it’s focus was on Internet freedom. Both conferences were well down in their own rights, interesting speakers and both conferences had the honor of a keynote speaker, Maria Otero, the Under Secretary of State for Democracy & Global Affairs.
Under Secretary gave essentially the same speech at both events, focusing on Internet freedom around the world. It was a well crafted speech (even the rerun) and reflected the Obama Administration policy targeting repressive regimes around the world. Yet, as I sat there listening to this laudable set of speeches, I reflected on a disappointing position that the Obama Administration has taken against young women in America.
I am speaking of the decision by the Administration to deny women under the age of 17 to purchase emergency contraceptives over the counter.
Yesterday, the Food & Drug Administration, at the advice of its scientific advisers, recommend that Plan B, the branded “morning after” pill, was safe for all women of child bearing age to use. Since its approval by the FDA for sale in the U.S., the previous practice, established by the Bush Administration was to allow for the sale of Plan B without a prescription but the pill was to be kept behind the pharmacists counter and given to women specifically requesting the drug. If a woman was under the age of 17, she needed parental permission. This procedure was an effort by the Bush Administration to restrict women’s access to contraception, a decision to appease its conservative base.
It’s now 2011. President Obama Administration, steadfast in his view that scientific evidence would not be trumped by politics did the unthinkable. For the first time, a Secretary of Health & Human Services overruled the Food & Drug Administrator’s decision to approve the sale of drugs to the American public. Overruling the FDA’s unconditional approval to sell emergency contraception over-the-counter to all women, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius rejected the FDA’s scientific evidence and slapped down young women who seek to control their own bodies.
For a full discussion of the politics of this appalling decision, read the piece on Reuters.com here.