The president who was going to restore science to its rightful place, sure has a funny way of going about it. Way back in 2011, the Food and Drug Administration ruled that emergency contraceptive pills were safe enough for all females of childbearing age to take without a doctor's prescription. In the heat of the presidential campaign, Obama's Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), Kathleen Sibeiius, overruled the agency to require that the drugs be made available only by prescription to those under age 17.
Since then a federal judge has ordered that HHS lift the requirement for prescriptions a couple of times and the Department has appealed those rulings. Meanwhile in a face-saving gesture, the FDA last month did permit girls and women over age 15 to get one version of emergency contraception without a prescription. Yesterday, a federal appeals court in New York ordered that a two-pill version of the emergency contraceptive be made immediately available over the counter to women of all ages without a prescription. As the New York Times reports:
The issue of emergency contraception is fraught with political sensitivities for the Obama administration. Conservative groups object to the drug itself, arguing that it may encourage young people to have unprotected sex. Some anti-abortion groups also contend that the drug is tantamount to an abortion pill, despite strong scientific evidence that the pill only prevents fertilization and does not act after an egg is fertilized.
Scientists have long argued against the need for any restrictions on the pill's sale, saying that studies show it is safer than many common over-the-counter drugs, including acetaminophen. And women's rights groups have advocated for the drug as a safe option for women in an emergency.
In response to the new ruling, American Council on Science and Health senior fellow Ruth Kava noted:
The 'anti' forces say, 'This is going to encourage sexual activity,' but as a matter of fact, teenage pregnancies have been dropping over the last few years which suggests that some of these messages are getting out there and that teens are using contraception. This is a very strongly felt and very widely fought over issue. The pills are safe, they're effective, and I think it's important for everyone to have free access to them. While some may argue about the safety of this form of contraception, they ignore the fact that pregnancy itself, especially in young teens, may have negative effects on health.
The Health and Human Services and Justice Departments are reviewing the new court ruling. Why? Why? These pills are safer than Tylenol!