Sometime this summer, Linda Tellier’s 13-year-old daughter could walk into her local pharmacy and buy the Plan B One-Step pill without a prescription or her mother’s knowledge.
“It appalls us that our daughter is not old enough to buy pseudoephedrine over the counter, but she could get a pill to potentially end a human life,” said Tellier, a Providence, R.I., resident who has two other daughters, ages 24 and 7.
“I feel it undermines my role as a parent to give my child, who is a minor, access to any drug without my express consent,” she told Our Sunday Visitor.
Tellier and other Catholic parents have cause for concern now that President Barack Obama’s administration has dropped its opposition to over-the-counter sales of Plan B, a contraceptive and possible abortifacient commonly known as the “morning-after pill.”
On June 10, government attorneys filed papers in a federal court in New York that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services will remove all age and sale restrictions on Plan B. U.S. District Court Judge Edward Korman approved that proposal, and the administration said it would drop its appeal of Korman’s order in April that all emergency contraceptives be sold over the counter like aspirin.
Until now, someone had to be 17 to buy Plan B One-Step, which was dispensed at the pharmacy counter. In April, the FDA agreed to lower the age to 15 and to allow it to be sold on shelves outside the pharmacy.
The government’s new policy does not apply to less-expensive generic, two-pill versions of the emergency contraceptive, but the fact that Plan B One-Step will soon be available to girls of all ages without a doctor’s note raises grave concerns for Catholics and pro-life advocates.
“A year and a half ago, the president said this defied common sense. Now here he is, changing course,” said Jeanne F. Monahan, president of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund.
She told OSV that she was “hugely disappointed” with the administration’s reversal on Plan B and added that the health and well-being of young girls and women are being sacrificed for political ideology.
“This sends the message to parents that their communication with their children, and a doctor’s communication with young people, are not important,” she said.
Secular women’s organizations that champion greater access to contraception and legalized abortion have been lobbying for years that all emergency contraceptives be sold without prescriptions or age restrictions. Many of them praised the administration’s decision on Plan B, but they said the same concession should be made for all brands of emergency contraceptives.
The Plan B controversy dates back to 2003, when its manufacturer, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, asked the FDA to make the drug available over the counter. In 2011, the FDA approved Teva’s request, but HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled the FDA.
She said the available data on Plan B did not suggest that it should be sold over the counter, adding it was “common knowledge that there are significant cognitive and behavioral differences between older adolescent girls and the youngest girls of reproductive age.”
Obama, at the time, agreed with Sebelius, and said he and the HHS secretary could not be confident that a 10-year-old or an 11-year-old going to a drugstore should be able, “alongside with bubble gum or batteries, to buy a medication that potentially, if not used properly, could have an adverse effect.”
But Korman rejected those arguments. In his April 5 ruling, filed in a lawsuit pushed by women’s groups, he said Sebelius’ decision was “politically motivated, scientifically unjustified and contrary to agency precedent.” He ordered that all emergency contraceptives based on the hormone levonorgestrel be sold without restrictions.
The government has asked Teva to submit a new application to the FDA for the drug to be sold over the counter, and has said that it intends to “promptly” approve it.
While groups like Planned Parenthood rejoiced — its president, Cecile Richards, hailed the development as a “huge breakthrough” for women’s health and equity — people of faith and pro-life advocates warned of the dire consequences of increasing access to abortifacient drugs without oversight from professionals or parents.
“This decision allows the abortion industry to gamble with young girls’ health in distributing a life-ending drug, with no real understanding of the long-term implications on their bodies,” said Charmaine Yoest, president and CEO of Americans United for Life.
“Equally troubling, this allows young girls pressured into sex or even abused by adults to be manipulated into taking pills that cover up what is a criminal act,” Yoest said.
Monahan added that drugs like Plan B kill innocent life by preventing a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus and that they do nothing to prevent sexually transmitted diseases.
“Plan B does nothing to prevent that, and, in fact, it exacerbates the problem,” Monahan said. “They’re trying to put a Band-Aid on the problem, a Band-Aid that destroys life and does not address health issues.”
Sending wrong message
The Plan B policy also sends a message, many Catholic parents say, to their children that they can have premarital sex without the consequence of pregnancy.
“It’s practically saying, ‘Go ahead and (have sex). Here’s a pill,’” said Breanna Ullmann of Las Cruces, N.M.
She said her five daughters — ages 2 months, 6, 9, 11 and 15 — are taught the Church’s teachings on sexual morality in an age-appropriate manner. She feels the government undermines her role as a parent when it makes it possible for her teenage daughter to buy Plan B without her knowledge.
“I’m teaching that this is wrong, but this administration is saying that it’s OK,” she said. “It makes me angry. These pills are incredibly bad for the body. They’re loaded up with hormones. To ignore the possible health risks to that child in the future is just very frightening.”
Debbie Sousa, a resident of Somerset, Mass., with an 18-year-old daughter, also said the administration’s move “troubled” her.
“The values I instill in my teenage daughter, and we talk about this, teach that sex outside of marriage isn’t right. We practice natural family planning and she knows that,” she said. “Contraception is already too much of a free-for-all with kids. The value of life isn’t taken seriously, and that’s what we’re up against.
“We’re saying sex is OK, and we have a fix if you want to go ahead and have sex,” Sousa said.
Tellier said her family has already experienced the challenges of an unexpected pregnancy with her adult daughter. However, her daughter trusted the family enough to turn to her parents for love and support.
“We also believe and teach mercy and support of our loved ones when they need us,” Tellier said. “There is no place for fear and panic among the body of Christ. To me, that’s what the Plan B pill is: fear and panic.”
Brian Fraga writes from Massachusetts.