December 8th, 2011
06:41 PM ET
The White House (CNN) –President Obama endorsed his administration’s decision to keep in place age restrictions on the purchase of Plan B, the so-called "morning after pill", without a prescription.
"I did not get involved in the process," Obama said when asked if he personally intervened in the matter. "This was a decision that was made by Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of HHS."
Sebelius announced the move on Wednesday, drawing applause from conservatives and ire from liberals and women’s health advocates. Even some in the president's own administration privately complained that politics had trumped science.
The Food and Drug Administration contends Plan B is safe and effective for women of all ages, but in a rare move, Sebelius overruled the agency on its decision to make the drug available over the counter, without age restrictions.
"As the father of two daughters, I think it is important for us to make sure that we apply some common sense to various rules when it comes to over-the-counter medicine," the president said. "The reason Kathleen made this decision was she could not be confident that a 10-year-old or an 11-year-old go into a drugstore, should be able - alongside bubble gum or batteries - be able to buy a medication that potentially, if not used properly, could end up having an adverse effect."
The override of the FDA's decision means current restrictions on Plan B will stand. Women 17 years and older may purchase the pill without a prescription. Those 16 years and younger need a prescription.
Plan B is marketed as a back-up birth control method, similar to a heavy dose of the birth control pill, only it can be taken up to 72 hours after intercourse to prevent pregnancy. In most cases, according to the FDA, it prevents the release of an egg from the ovary. It may also stop fertilization of an egg. Because of its ability to stop a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus, some say the pill is a form of abortion.
"It is surely not a scientific decision," says Susan Wood, who resigned as the FDA’s Director of the Office of Women's Health in 2005 in protest to the restrictions on Plan B supported by the Bush administration. "The secretary's rationale is very similar to the one used in the previous administration to block Plan B from going over-the-counter. It is not supported by data."
Had the FDA eliminated the age restriction, Plan B could have been available in drug stores much like aspirin or cough medicine. But it would have left President Obama open to criticism from Republican opponents during his fight for re-election.
With the age restriction intact, Plan B is expected to stay behind the pharmacy counters to be dispensed only by pharmacists. Critics like Wood say that makes it inconvenient to access for women who are permitted to purchase the drug.
"It needs to be taken right away to be effective and to help young teens or older women there need to be no barriers to access to this very safe product," Wood told CNN.
President Obama pointed repeatedly to concerns about young teens and pre-teens purchasing the medication and using it improperly. "I think most parents would probably feel the same way," he told reporters.