On January 20, the Obama Administration demonstrated that it wouldn’t allow religiously affiliated organizations to dodge their responsibility for the reproductive health of the women working for them. Those organizations—not churches, synagogues, and mosques, but universities, hospitals, and some charities associated with religious institutions—will have to comply with the Affordable Care Act and offer insurance coverage of contraception without copayments, putting family planning within reach of all.
When it comes to women’s health, don’t you want leadership that listens to science and doesn’t cave in to political pressure?
This is a huge victory. Women won’t be cut off from affordable contraception because of their employers’ religious beliefs. And it’s a decision based on scientific evidence rather than politics. We applaud the Department of Health and Human Services for its sound judgment.
Unfortunately, the department’s judgment was not so sound when it came to a crucial decision about emergency contraception—and we’re taking action now to rectify it.
In December, H.H.S. Secretary Kathleen Sebelius ignored conclusive scientific research when she overruled the Food and Drug Administration’s recommendation to make emergency contraception, commonly known as the morning-after pill, available over the counter without restriction.
Today, the Center for Reproductive Rights is asking a federal court to reopen our lawsuit against the FDA, seeking an end to these restrictions and an end to the government’s habit of putting politics before science. And because Sebelius's decision is the subject of the litigation, we’re also asking the court to add her as a defendant.
Our struggle began in 2001. The Center, along with its partners, asked the FDA through a Citizen Petition to make emergency contraception available over the counter. The FDA refused, and we filed suit in 2005. Four years later, a federal court ordered the agency to extend over-the-counter access to Plan B, one type of emergency contraception, and its generic equivalents, to women 17 and older. The judge also ordered the FDA to go back and reconsider making these medications available without a prescription for all age groups because the agency’s years of inaction were clearly based on politics rather than science.
A wide body of research indicates that emergency contraception is as safe as many common over-the-counter medications. There is no reason Plan B and similar emergency contraceptives shouldn’t be available in the aisles next to aspirin and cold medicines, where all who need it can easily get it.
The FDA has plenty of science proving the safety of emergency contraception. That’s exactly why the agency’s scientists have repeatedly recommended its unrestricted availability to women of all ages. But in an astonishing, unprecedented move, Secretary Sebelius—a political appointee—overruled this entire body of evidence.
As a result, an important healthcare technology is kept beyond the reach of many women who need it.
President Obama wasted little time after taking office in publicly declaring his support for evidence-based decision making:
“Science and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions of my Administration…The public must be able to trust the science and scientific process informing public policy decisions.”
Now, it’s time for Sec. Sebelius to make good on the promise that the president has made—to stop putting political concerns ahead of science and bring emergency contraception out from behind the pharmacy counter once and for all.