Health and Human Services (HHS) acted to protect kids Dec. 7 when HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius rejected a recommendation of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to let stores sell powerful hormonal drugs to children over the counter.
Promoters of contraceptives immediately criticized this decision about Plan B-One Step, a morning-after pill and mega-dose of contraceptives, and by definition pretty strong medicine. To their mind, anything that curtails the maximum distribution of contraceptive even to minor children use must be wrong, common sense aside. The FDA wanted the medicine available over-the-counter to anyone who could get pregnant, which would include pre-teens. There seems to be no consideration that a medicine designed for adult women can have a completely different effect on a child. For example, adult anti-depressants and psychotropic drugs that may help adults with depression are known to create suicidal thoughts in teens.
The FDA plan was the Teva pharmaceutical company's dream -- their pills, which were not selling well as a prescription drug, would now be right up there on the shelf with meds for childhood illnesses like the common cold.
It is hard to imagine that any parent or teacher who ever has known an 11-year-old could disagree with the HHS decision. That's true regardless of one's view on the morality of contraception or one's level of concern about the prospect that some of these drugs can serve as abortifacients. The Catholic Church has serious concerns about contraceptive use and doesn't think Plan B is good for anybody, no secret there. But you don't have to be a supporter of the church's position to know that pushing Plan B to kids is wrong on many levels.
Childhood is a time of immaturity and making mistakes, but adults usually try to see that youthful missteps do not become fatal ones. There are 10-year-olds who can drive, but only the foolhardy would advocate their doing so. Such choices just don't belong to children.
One would think that permitting kids to use their birthday money to buy meds without their parents' or guardians' knowledge would be beyond the pale. Clearly if a child is scared enough after having sex to worry about pregnancy, she also might be scared enough not to read the instructions on the box or the list of problems which might arise. In a child's mind, if taking one pill might make the problem go away, taking two would be even better, and three would virtually guarantee the results being sought. Panicky kids also are apt to ignore the instructions about side effects, such as nausea, pain and bleeding, and the recommendation to contact a doctor if side effects occur.
Children also might miss the fact that if Plan B reduces chances of getting pregnant, it doesn't wipe them out. The young, who can see themselves invulnerable, certainly can be easily misled into thinking Plan B is a free pass when engaging in risky behavior. Misinformation can have long-term consequences in this instance.
Teen pregnancy is a serious social problem but it is not one addressed by leading kids to think they can engage in "safe sex." There is no such thing as safe sex for children. Plan B's manufacturer admits its product does not prevent other serious problems such as AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases that come with irresponsible sexual activity. Would an anxiety-ridden child take time to read such a disclaimer? Would they have read the recent report in The New York Times that these drugs can actually increase the risk of contracting AIDS?
The move by Sebelius may be one of a mother who remembers when her children were 11. President Obama, father of teen and pre-teen daughters, referred to them when he defended Sibelius's decision to media. There's nothing like real experience to drive a message home.
After she announced her veto, Sebelius was criticized for making a political decision that might please the Catholic vote. This decision would be more apt to please the parent and grandparent vote. People with pre-adolescent and adolescent children probably hope their offspring are not sexually active. They certainly hope they aren't secretly self-medicating with anything as serious as Plan B.