I’d like to say that the decision on restricting access to Plan B has led to a backlash in Washington. I’d like to say that female and male legislators alike lambasted the decision, which will result in more unwanted pregnancies and more abortions because paternalistic policymakers didn’t want to feel icky. But the headline “Plan B decision draws strong and mixed reaction” doesn’t really connote mass outrage. Some women’s groups have condemned the decision, yes – Planned Parenthood wants to meet with Sebelius – but the reaction has been more muted than deserved. And outside of Sen. Patty Murray, women’s advocates in Congress have given the Administration a pass:
Aides to pro-choice women in the Senate who are typically responsive were mostly silent throughout the day. The Huffington Post contacted 13 such offices and received only two responses, statements from Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). Two Democratic aides said Murray’s office was taking the lead on responding, and her office confirmed that the senator would be writing a letter asking the administration for more information on the decision.
Murray’s statement, at least, is a sternly worded condemnation of the decision, charging the administration with putting politics over science.
“I’m very disappointed that Secretary Sebelius has chosen to override the careful scientific analysis of the FDA by blocking further access to emergency contraception,” she said. “In this case, both the FDA and the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research did careful analysis and determined that Plan B is safe and effective for over-the-counter use by more women. That analysis included a thorough review of whether young women understood usage restrictions.”
But that was the extent, more or less, of the push back from the Hill.
There’s a tactical decision being made here. The Administration has an additional policy in this arena, whether to offer a religious “conscience exemption” to roll back free contraception coverage, a feature of the Affordable Care Act, for Catholic hospitals and schools and other organizations. And some in Congress are simply holding fire until that decision comes down. Others, like Rep. Diana DeGette and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, took the Administration at their word when they claimed they will collect more data on the consequences of making Plan B available to all women over the counter. Of course, the FDA had studied this for 10 years, and recommended that OTC access to Plan B was safe for adolescent women, despite more testing than they ever performed with other potentially dangerous drugs like Tylenol.
There’s no question politics was involved in the decision, as it has been on Plan B for years, and there’s no question politics are involved in the reaction. But if you want to know why the Administration feels emboldened to rule conservatively on this issue affecting women’s health, rather than the more liberal rulings we’ve seen lately on LGBT issues, you need only look to the activist sphere and these reactions. If this Administration gets no pressure from the outside, they feel free to position themselves however they want. And the women’s advocacy community, both inside and outside Congress, have basically been doormats. Now we’re seeing the results.
Incidentally, as Celinda Lake says, the politics guiding the Administration on this are clearly wrong. I’ll give her the last word:
But Democratic pollster Celinda Lake said she could “not even remotely” understand the political calculus of the decision, saying it “alienates the base, causes conflict with women in the base, [is] bad for key groups of women like younger women and unmarried women, and doesn’t win the swing independent women.”