Commentary Contraception

President Obama, Please Keep Your Promise to Insulate Science from Politics and Ideology

Wayne Shields

One of the most difficult things to do is tell a friend that we are disappointed or upset with them, but that is what we are doing here today.

On Friday, January 6th, 2012, several experts addressed the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology about the emergency contraceptive Plan B One-Step® and the Obama administration’s refusal to let the Food and Drug Administration lift the age restriction from the medication. The administration dismissed overwhelming scientific evidence showing Plan B’s safety, and the experts whose testimonies are published by Rewire raised questions about both the process and the politics behind the decision.

See all our coverage of the Administration’s 2011 Emergency Contraception Reversal here.

Thank you, Dr. Holdren and Counsel Advisors for setting aside time for us to speak with you this afternoon.

I am here today representing the 12,000 ARHP member health care professionals across disciplines and specialties who are passionate about evidence-based science and excellent patient care. It is our job to translate the best possible bench, clinical, and behavioral research into clinical practice to improve public health.

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You are the President’s greatly respected science and technology advisors at the highest level. Your Counsel work is testimony to President Obama’s commitment three years ago to “restore science to its rightful place.”

Unfortunately, that is why our community is so distressed right now. One of the most difficult things to do is tell a friend that we are disappointed or upset with them, but that is what we are doing here today. Our field is experiencing a collective moment of “cognitive dissonance” with the administration right now. This is due to Secretary Sebelius’ recent decision to pit science against politics when she overruled the FDA’s evidence-based decision to approve Plan B One Step for over-the-counter use for all women. This method is extremely safe and effective for all women, and is far safer than many currently approved over-the-counter medications.

This situation raises difficult questions about women’s healthcare in the US:

  • How will this unfortunate precedent impact future FDA decisions, and how will that uncertainty impact public health overall?
  • How will this political barrier to access impact unintended pregnancy, morbidity, and mortality rates among teens and young adults?
  • Amid this confusion, how do clinicians counsel women about their care?

President Obama promised to insulate science from politics and ideology, and PCAST is evidence of this intention. We are asking you to work with us on this setback to readdress this decision, find out how it was made, and identify a better pathway forward in the future.

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