A decision by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius last week to block the unrestricted sale of the morning-after pill to those under 17 has met with opposition from women’s groups, family-planning advocates, and now, from some congressional Democrats.
Fourteen members of the Senate Democratic caucus led by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) on Tuesday penned a letter to Sebelius asking for the scientific basis for her move last week to overrule Food and Drug Administrator Margaret A. Hamburg’s decision to make Plan B One-Step available to people of all ages without a prescription.
“We feel strongly that FDA regulations should be based on science. ... We ask that you share with us your specific rationale and the scientific data you relied on for the decision to overrule the FDA recommendation. On behalf of the millions of women we represent, we want to be assured that this and future decisions affecting women’s health will be based on medical and scientific evidence,” the senators wrote to Sebelius.
In addition to Murray, the other Senate Democrats signing onto the letter are Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Barbara Boxer (Calif.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Daniel Akaka (Hawaii), Carl Levin (Mich.), John Kerry (Mass.), Tom Harkin (Iowa), Al Franken (Minn.), Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Maria Cantwell (Wash.) and Jeff Merkley (Ore.). Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who caucuses with Senate Democrats, also signed the letter.
Some outside groups last week argued that the Obama administration had “let politics trump science” in its decision, which comes as the 2012 presidential race is beginning in earnest. President Obama has defended Sebelius’s move and said that it’s necessary to “apply some common sense to various rules when it comes to over-the-counter medicine.”
Harkin told reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday afternoon that he was “very unhappy” with Sebelius’s decision.
“I just don’t know if the people in the administration really understand all we’ve been through legislatively on Plan B for what, 10 years now? Twelve years, maybe?” he said. “It’s science. You’re either going to follow the science or you’re going to have ideology trumping science.”
The full text of the senators’ letter to Sebelius is below.
December 13, 2011
The Honorable Kathleen Sebelius
US Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20201
Dear Secretary Sebelius,
We are writing to express our disappointment with your December 7, 2011 decision to block the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) recommendation to make Plan B One-Step available over-the-counter. We feel strongly that FDA regulations should be based on science. We write to you today to ask that you provide us with the rationale for this decision.
As numerous medical societies and patient advocates have argued, improved access to birth control, including emergency contraception, has been proven to reduce unintended pregnancies. Nearly half of all pregnancies that occur in the United States each year are unintended. Keeping Plan B behind the counter makes it harder for all women to obtain a safe and effective product they may need to prevent an unintended pregnancy.
We ask that you share with us your specific rationale and the scientific data you relied on for the decision to overrule the FDA recommendation. On behalf of the millions of women we represent, we want to be assured that this and future decisions affecting women’s health will be based on medical and scientific evidence.