On Reproductive Rights, Obama Abandons His Base Once Again

Back in November, Barack Obama rode a massive victory in the battle for the female vote 55 percent to 44 percent for Mitt Romney nationally, and that gap was even larger in swing states like Ohio — to a second term in office. Admittedly, Mitt Romney (and, really, every level of the GOP) made things a bit easier by systematically alienating himself from women across the country, but the Obama campaign successfully positioned its candidate as the Enlightened One—binder-free and ready to lead American society into the 21st century.

He consistently pledged support to Planned Parenthood and reproductive rights, and has recently come to the defense of scientific integrity unmarred by political maneuvering on topics ranging from climate change to the National Academy of Sciences. All of which makes what happened on Wednesday enraging, yes, but also simply deflating: The Department of Justice, with the support of the Obama administration, announced that it is appealing a decision by NewYork District Judge Edward R. Korman, who early last month ruled that the morning-after pill be allowed to be sold over the counter without any age restrictions.

This is a battle that has raged on multiple fronts for almost two years now. In 2011, the FDA made news when it found that the emergency contraceptive was safe and effective in girls as young as 11 — only to be overruled in an unprecedented move by Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, who ordered that the pill only be made available over the counter to women 17 and over.

The agency had consistently been allowed to operate with relative independence, and Sebelius became the only cabinet member to ever block policy created by the FDA (it would, after all, seem to know of what it speaks). And Tuesday, just a day before the DOJ announced that it would appeal Korman’s ruling, the FDA decided to lower the age requirement to 15 for the most popular morning-after pill, Plan B One-Step—but only if buyers are able to provide a driver’s license, passport or other valid form of ID.

The DOJ claims that its appeal is concerned not with issues of reproductive justice but of jurisprudence — namely, that Korman overstepped his jurisdiction when he overturned the “scientific judgements” of the FDA (here is where we’d point out that Sebelius was guilty of the same when she ignored the agency’s findings on the morning-after pill, but we digress). Legal reasoning aside, the move is still a betrayal of the both Obama’s voters and the promises that put him in office for four more years.

The simple fact is that there remains no valid reason to prevent women of any age from easily obtaining emergency contraception. Any age restriction, even when lowered to 15, merely punishes young women for being sexually active. It should at this point be axiomatic that 15 year olds — and 14 year olds, and whatever inherently arbitrary age is chosen — will have sex if they decide to have sex, easily available contraception be damned (hence the fact that abstinence- only education has little effect on sexual activity and pregnancy rates). Limiting access to emergency contraception only ensures that that sex will result in a child.

Obama is quoted in The New York Times as having defended Sebelius in 2011 by saying,“I think most parents would probably feel the same way.” We can only assume he thinks most parents would prefer their 13-year-old daughter carry a child to term rather than safely and effectively preventing conception. Emergency contraception has been proven time and time again to be safe for women of all ages, but even if it did carry a risk, a drug would have to be extremely destructive to wreak more havoc on a preteen girl’s body than pregnancy. No woman should have to bear a child she does not want, and no where should this right be defended more seriously than for teenagers.