On Wednesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled an expert panel at the FDA which had recommended allowing children under 17 to purchase the “morning after pill” Plan B One-Step over the counter. Under current regulations, Plan B is available without a prescription to people 17 and over, but those 16 and under would need a prescription in order to purchase it. The pill is designed to be taken within 72 hours after having “unprotected” sex and is claimed to reduce the chances of pregnancy from such sex from 1 in 20 to 1 in 40. It does this by preventing ovulation through a boost in hormones. Like other forms of hormonal birth control, it also serves to make the uterine lining more resistant to implantation by a fertilized egg, so even if ovulation does occur (or has already done so) it can make spontaneous miscarriage/abortion of the zygote far more likely. As such, it is often considered potentially a form of early abortion, though the frequency with which it acts through preventing a zygote from implanting (versus acting through preventing ovulation) is not known.
In prior policy moves in relation to Plan B, the Bush Administration had originally overruled a request that the pill be made available over the counter, but eventually allowed it for purchasers who were 18 or over. The Obama administration acted in 2009 to make Plan B available to those 17 and over, but until now has continued to require a prescription for those young. This means that the pill (which costs around $50 per dose) is generally held behind the pharmacy counter and provided without a presciption to those who show ID proving they are 17 or over.
This latest move on Plan B has many left leaning commentators up in arms, accusing the Obama Administration of ignoring ‘science’ and bowing to the interests of the religious right. James Fallows at The Atlantic compares the move to something one would expect from a Michelle Bachman administration and suggests Sebelius and Obama should be criticized accordingly.