In an unexpected last-minute reversal, the Obama administration won’t allow Plan B to be sold on drugstore shelves. Kathleen Sebelius overruled the recommendation of Health and Human Services medical experts who wanted to get rid of the 17-and-over age restriction for over-the-counter emergency contraception. Sebelius said teenagers may not understand how to use the pill without adult guidance, and so it’s problematic to make it available over the counter; critics say it’s a craven political move in the run-up to an election year. Sebelius’s rationale was abruptly undercut by none other than FDA commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg, who said the issue was not one of health, and regulators had already taken the age factor into account. “There is adequate and reasonable, well-supported and science-based evidence that Plan B One-Step is safe and effective and should be approved for nonprescription use for all females of child-bearing potential.”
If the move panders to moderate voters who don’t like imagining their daughters would ever need Plan B, the fallout from the disappointed left may be even more damaging. Sebelius’s last-minute reversal not only quashes what was seen as an important, hard-won victory for reproductive-rights champions — both symbolically and practically — but it also comes close on the heels of an amped-up campaign from social conservatives, as seen most recently in the failed Mississippi “personhood” amendment. It’s an unforced surrender that confirms, yet again, the left’s fears about Obama. And if Rick Perry’s new “war on religion” video proves anything, it’s that the culture wars still garner plenty of big-time political traction. Perry, though, is playing to his base. The Obama administration is reaching, instead, for a muddled middle ground — which does indeed rile up his base, but not with the sort of emotion Obama is hoping for.