The Obama administration’s overruling of an FDA proposal to provide the Plan B “morning-after pill” to preteen girls won praise from Catholic leaders who said it protected parental responsibility and the health of young adolescent girls.
“Our country must help parents exercise their responsibility to their children,” Catholic Health Association president and CEO Sr. Carol Keehan, D.C., said Dec. 9.
“Giving parents control over relatively inconsequential areas such as ear-piercing and then taking it away in such a serious area would not only put their children at risk but undermine parents' ability to parent. This great country is built on the strength of the family and this decision helps to maintain a strong role for parents in critical decisions.”
Sr. Keehan said the CHA is “very grateful” to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, calling her decision to override the FDA’s approval “intelligent and courageous.”
Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, the director of media relations for the U.S. bishops’ conference, also praised the decision.
“It is hard to imagine that any parent or teacher who ever has known an 11-year-old could disagree with the HHS decision. That’s true regardless of one’s view on the morality of contraception or one’s level of concern about the prospect that some of these drugs can serve as abortifacients.”
On Dec. 7 the Food and Drug Administration planned to announce that it would allow the “Plan B One-Step” drug, also known as the “morning after pill,” to be sold over the counter and without parental consent to girls of all ages.
FDA commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg had endorsed the pill, a high dose of the synthetic hormone progesterone, as “safe and effective” for all women of “child-bearing potential.”
However, Sebelius overruled the decision, citing the “significant cognitive and behavioral differences” between older adolescent girls and the youngest girls of reproductive age.
Current restrictions on the drug require a prescription for girls under the age of 17. Those meeting the age requirement can obtain the contraceptive over the counter.
Sr. Keehan cited “grave concern” about the safety of young girls self-administering the hormone and the lack of “strong science” demonstrating the safety of the drug.
Sr. Walsh said the FDA’s reasoning seemed not to consider that a medicine designed for adult women can have a “completely different effect” on a child.
“The Catholic Church has serious concerns about contraceptive use and doesn’t think Plan B is good for anybody, no secret there. But you don’t have to be a supporter of the church’s position to know that pushing Plan B to kids is wrong on many levels,” Sr. Walsh said.
Childhood is a time of “immaturity and making mistakes,” she continued. “One would think that permitting kids to use their birthday money to buy meds without their parents’ or guardians’ knowledge would be beyond the pale.”
She characterized the proposal as a “dream” for the Israel-headquartered pharmaceutical company Teva, which produces the drug.
“(T)heir pills, which were not selling well as a prescription drug, would now be right up there on the shelf with meds for childhood illnesses like the common cold.”
Sr. Walsh voiced concerns that young adolescents might be too scared not to read the instructions and could overdose or ignore instructions about side effects.
She also worried that the young can be easily misled into thinking Plan B is a “free pass” for risky behavior. Teen pregnancy is a “serious social problem” that cannot be addressed by leading kids to think they can engage in “safe sex,” she stated.
Sr. Walsh also dismissed criticisms that Sebelius made a political decision to please the Catholic vote.
“This decision would be more apt to please the parent and grandparent vote. People with pre-adolescent and adolescent children probably hope their offspring are not sexually active. They certainly hope they aren’t secretly self-medicating with anything as serious as Plan B,” she said.