(Photo: REUTERS/Henry Romero)
President Barack Obama said he is "comfortable" with a recent decision by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to allow over the counter access of morning-after pills (Plan B) to girls 15 and older.
Responding to questions at a recent press conference in Mexico City with Mexican President Pena Nieto, Obama explained that his comfort level was based on the scientific data presented to him.
"I'm very comfortable with the decision they've made right now based on solid scientific evidence for girls 15 and older," Obama said Thursday.
He pointed out, however, that while he supports the decision, he did not make it. "This is a decision made by the FDA and the secretary of Health and Human Services. It's not my decision to make. The first time around where there were no age restrictions, Secretary [Kathleen] Sebelius expressed concerns and I supported those concerns and I gave voice to them," he said.
Obama had supported a 2011 decision by Sebelius to set age limits for Plan B One-Step and its generic versions. Sebelius had expressed concerns about minors buying the morning-after pill alongside bubble gum and without a prescription, saying it could have adverse effects.
But Obama said the decision by the FDA this week to approve the pill for women 15 and older was reviewed and okayed by Sebelius. "She's comfortable with it. I'm comfortable with it," he said.
Obama also used the opportunity Thursday to reiterate that his support for contraceptives is grounded in the belief that women should decide when they are ready to reproduce.
"I'm very supportive of contraception because I think it's very important that women have control over their health care choices and when they are starting a family," said the president. "That's their decision to make and so we want to make sure they have access to contraception."
While the FDA on over the counter access to morning-after pills now only applies to 15-year-old girls and older, President Obama noted that the question on whether or not the drug should be made available to girls younger than 15 is still being examined.
"It has not resolved the question of girls younger than 15," said Obama regarding the FDA ruling.
"There is a court case that came up that is being appealed by the Justice Department, that's a Justice Department decision. My understanding is that part of it has to do with the precedent and the way in which the judge handled that case and my suspicion is that the FDA might be called on to make further decisions on whether there is sufficient scientific evidence for girls younger than 15," he added.
In early April, a federal judge in New York, Edward Korman, ordered the FDA to make the morning-after pill – which pro-life groups consider an abortifacient – available over the counter to young teens and girls regardless of their age. The White House, however, disagreed and said an age restriction to accessing the drug was the "right common-sense approach."
Planned Parenthood lobbied the Obama administration on Wednesday, however, to expand access to the morning-after pill.
"Studies show that emergency contraception is a safe and effective form of birth control that can prevent pregnancy if taken within five days of unprotected sex, and research also shows that teens are as likely as adults to use emergency contraception correctly," Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America told CNN in a recent report.
"Age barriers to emergency contraception are not supported by science, and they should be eliminated," she added.
Anna Higgins, director of the Center for Human Dignity at Family Research Council, has meanwhile called the FDA approval "irresponsible" and "dangerous."
"Teenagers under the age of 17 cannot even be admitted to an R–rated movie and schools are required to obtain a parent's permission to administer any type of medication to a child or teen, for good reason," she noted. "The new Plan B decisions, made without regard to parental or medical concern, will only serve to endanger the health and safety of children."