In a surprise move, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled a Food and Drug Administration decision to allow minors to buy Plan B One-Step over the counter.
The decision is likely aimed at defusing the issue ahead to the 2012 election and appeasing Catholic leaders who have been upset with other recent decisions from the HHS secretary.
Plan B, known as an “emergency contraceptive,” is a drug that prevents a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus if taken within 72 hours after having sex.
The FDA had determined that Plan B was “safe and effective” for adolescents, but Sebelius said in a statement that she did not find the data conclusive.
Sebelius has recently been criticized by Catholic leaders for two other decisions. In the first, health care service providers would be required to carry contraceptive services under the new health care law. The religious exemption was written so narrowly that Catholic hospitals and universities would not qualify. Catholics are opposed to the use of contraception.
Second, a Catholic organization that provides help for the victims of human trafficking was denied an HHS grant because it does not provide abortion referrals.
“The government should not be telling us what constitutes Catholic ministry,” Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokesperson for United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, told The Christian Post in a Thursday interview, “and there is still concern over the HHS decision to manipulate the grant process.”
USCCB agrees with Sebelius' Plan B decision, Walsh said, but, “hardly does one cut the other.” The grant decision “we think is illegal,” the contraception requirement decision “we think is completely against religious liberty.” Not allowing Plan B to be purchased over-the-counter by minors, “fortunately, is one in favor of children, which we certainly can support any decision that is in favor of children.”
“We don't believe in Plan B at all,” Walsh added, “but we're absolutely horrified that someone might push it to kids 11 years old, and that's where the secretary drew the line.”
Obama denied any involvement, but said he agreed with Sebelius' decision in a Thursday press conference.
“I think it is important for us to make sure that we apply some common sense to various rules when it comes to over-the-counter medicine. When it comes to 12-year-olds or 13-year-olds, the question is can we have confidence that they would potentially use Plan B properly,” Obama said.
Liberal Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, a Catholic, warned the Obama administration in a Nov. 23 editorial that it was in danger of isolating liberal Catholics and strengthening conservative Catholics if it did not offer some concessions to Catholics.
“If the administration is pressured into refusing any accommodation on the contraception rules, the people who will be undercut most are progressive Catholics who went out on a limb to support the health-care law and those bishops holding the line against the Catholic right by standing up for the church’s commitment to social justice. This will only strengthen the most conservative forces inside the Catholic Church,” Dionne wrote.