Although the decision, announced Wednesday by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, angered women’s groups, some of the president’s allies said that allowing the FDA ruling to stand could potentially have been more politically damaging for Obama if he was portrayed as giving teenage girls unfettered access to the morning-after pill.
Obama, appearing in a briefing room at the White House, said he was not involved in the decision to require a prescription for girls 16 and younger before it was announced, leaving it up to Sebelius.
But, he added: “As the father of two daughters, 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.”
“And as I understand it, the reason Kathleen made this decision was she could not be confident that a 10-year-old or an 11-year-old, going to a drugstore, should be able, alongside bubble gum or batteries, be able to buy a medication that potentially if not used properly could end up having an adverse effect,” Obama said. “And I think most parents would probably feel the same way.”
Asked whether he supported the decision, Obama offered a definitive “I do.”
Meanwhile, the political reverberations continued Thursday.
“The political calculations that the administration is making around this are disheartening,” Jessica Arons of the liberal think tank Center for American Progress said. “They seem to be very concerned with conservative, religious voters, and are trying to maintain what margins they can with that audience. But it’s missing the forest for the trees.”
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) called on Sebelius to explain the scientific underpinnings of her decision. “I want to know what the scientific evidence is that the secretary made this decision on in overriding the FDA,” Murray said. “Pharmaceutical companies here in this country make some very expensive decisions, and they need to know that the FDA is going to base a decision based on science.”
One former White House official familiar with decision-making on such issues said the scientific evidence clearly supported the FDA’s findings that it was safe for girls younger than 17 to use Plan B without a prescription — adding that this was a higher standard than that applied to any number of potentially lethal medications offered over the counter.
“One of the president’s first executive orders was that we will use science to guide decisions and not politics,” said the official. “And I don’t understand how this can possibly square with science.”