Last week, when Secretary Sebelius substituted her judgmentfor that of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner and many of the nation's leading medical experts and public health professionals, she achieved a rare and unwanted trifecta - bad policy, bad politics, bad precedent.
Her decision to continue restricting access to Plan B One-Step was clearly bad policy. The FDA evaluated Plan B One-Step and deemed it "safe and effective...based on scientific evidence."
That should have been enough.
This was an opportunity to significantly enhance women's health by providing direct access to safe, effective back-up contraception when needed. With the medical and scientific community in agreement that Plan B One-Step is safe, can be correctly used by teenagers and that its over-the-counter access would not encourage teens to begin sexual activity, have sex at younger ages or have more sexual partners, Secretary Sebelius's unprecedented decision to set aside the research and overrule the experts was bad policy.
Her attempt to backtrack by suggesting the company "can resubmit" is a dodge. This is the exact same thing we heard from three different FDA Commissioners in the previous administration. Let's be clear -- we have the data and it is reassuring. But politicians keep moving the goal posts.
Clearly Sebelius wasn't listening in March 2009 when President Obama spoke to the importance of "listening to what (the scientists) tell us, even when it's inconvenient - especially when it's inconvenient."
Sebelius should have listened to President Obama.
Her bad policy has weakened women's health in our country, and this is at odds with where the president wants to be in a difficult election year.
Instead of being on the defensive about his commitment to strengthening women's health, the president should be doing all he can to position himself as a leader on women's reproductive health. And while there are those in the political arena who believe contraception is a lightning rod, these pundits (and in this case also Secretary Sebelius), as is often the case, have shown themselves to be more than a little out of touch with the American people.
A strong and bipartisan group of voters, more than eight of 10, including 73 percent of Republicans, support women's access to contraception. That means, not only did Sebelius's decision hurt the president with his political base, it also did very little to reconnect him with crucial independent voters.
By interjecting politics into the FDA drug review process, Secretary Sebelius placed the president in the unenviable position of not acting in the best interest of women's health. And politically, that's not a place the president wants to be.
If only when asked, he had said, "As the father of two daughters, I had questions, but the medical and scientific evidence reassured me this was good policy."
But he didn't and bad policy became bad politics.
And if that wasn't enough....
When we end up looking back on this ill-conceived decision, the worst consequence of all might well be that Secretary Sebelius established a dangerous precedent extending well beyond the future of Plan B One-Step or the next presidential election. When Sebelius overruled the reasoned and researched medical and scientific analysis, she cleared the path for future Department of Health and Human Services Secretaries to do the same.
Not only do we have to pay the price today but all of us are likely to pay a price going into the future.
As a thought exercise, imagine what a future Secretary of Health and Human Services Coburn - a scientist and doctor -- might have to say about a possible new drug therapy that uses stem cells or about a new HPV vaccine?
Recognizing that politicizing our drug supply is bad for our nation's health, some are now calling to make FDA a truly independent agency. Democratic Senators are wise to call Secretary Sebelius to account.
Bad policy, bad politics, bad precedent.
The Sebelius trifecta.