WASHINGTON — Hawaii’s congresswomen say they disagree with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on her controversial decision not to loosen restrictions on the sale of emergency contraception known as Plan B or the morning-after pill.
Reps. Colleen Hanabusa and Mazie Hirono join a chorus of Democrats who say Sebelius ought to provide more information about why she overruled the Food and Drug Administration’s decision to allow over-the-counter sale of the emergency contraceptive, including to young teenagers.
The pill is already available without a prescription to women who are at least 17 years old.
The FDA said Sebelius’ decision marks the first time a cabinet secretary has overruled the agency, according to the New York Times, a move that critics have said indicates that politics can trump science when it comes to decisions that affect public health.
Given the ongoing controversy that has surrounded Sebelius’ decision, Civil Beat decided to ask the congresswomen about the issue.
“Secretary Sebelius’ decision to overrule the FDA’s recommendation on Plan B One-Step sets a troubling precedent because it is not clear whether her decision put politics above science,” Hanabusa told Civil Beat. “The Secretary needs to show us the scientific data she used to make this call.”
Hirono also called for scientific evidence to back up Sebelius’ decision, and said that she believes that all Americans should have access to safe contraception, especially given what she called an “epidemic of teenage pregnancies” in the United States. Health officials estimate that there are more than 3 million unintended pregnancies in the United States every year.
“I would disagree with the secretary’s decision to overrule the FDA’s recommendation, which was based on sound science and medical reasoning,” Hirono said. “I would urge the secretary to explain how she made this decision and share the specific rationale and scientific data she relied on. It is important to recognize that Plan B is emergency contraception that prevents pregnancy; it’s not, as some have falsely labeled it, abortion.”
Sebelius said in a statement that she does not believe “enough data” was presented to support making the morning-after pill available to girls of all ages. But the FDA emphasized that it has evaluated the safety and effectiveness of emergency contraceptives like Plan B for “over a decade.” Several medical and scientific groups representing tens of thousands of doctors and scientists have expressed outrage over Sebelius’ decision.
American Academy of Pediatrics President Robert Block called Sebelius’ decision “medically inexplicable” and “disappointing.”
“Emergency contraception is a safe, effective back-up birth control method for teens and women of all ages to prevent unintended pregnancy,” Block said in a statement.
Sen. Daniel Akaka has also implored Sebelius to better explain her decision. He was one of 14 Democratic senators who signed a scathing letter “on behalf of the millions of women” they represent.
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