In 1985, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Barbara Tuchman wrote a famous book looking at the question of why leaders not only make bad choices, but keep making them long after it’s obvious to pretty much everyone how wrong their choices are. The March of Folly starts with a fictional folly, the Trojan War, and particularly the idiotic choice to bring a big wooden horse inside while people are standing around saying, “That’s got to be full of Greeks.” It ends with the war in Vietnam, during which one leader after another just kept picking up the disastrous policies of the previous administration, convinced that this time it would work out.
It’s a great book, but why am I recommending a book that’s mostly about war here on a reproductive rights website? Because the Obama administration’s actions regarding Plan B reflect Tuchman’s observations about the “wood-headedness” of leaders who would rather keep throwing good money after bad policy rather than admit they were wrong in the first place. At this point, they just look foolish by continuing to defend a policy requiring people to show ID to prove they’re over 15 so they can buy a drug that’s safer than Tylenol to prevent pregnancy from occurring from sex they already had. When Judge Edward Kormen refused the administration’s request to suspend his ruling that the pill be made available without age restrictions while they appeal, he dressed them down by calling their behavior “frivolous.” Attempts to maintain dignity during all this are becoming ever more futile.
Let us count all the ways that continuing to defend restrictions on Plan B is failing.
Depleting the reserves of good will from pro-choicers. By and large, pro-choicers support the Obama administration’s reproductive rights policies and particularly have praised Obama for defending access to contraception in the face of repeated attacks by Republicans. But we’re losing patience in the face of the sheer pig-headedness of the administration on this issue. Obama and Kathleen Sebelius haven’t won any points by implying that pro-choicers are mainly concerned with getting birth control into the hands of 11-year-olds, either. While we do think that younger girls who are in danger of pregnancy need to be able to prevent it, we have also and repeatedly pointed out that most of the people who are harmed by ID requirements are 15 and older, but don’t have an ID on them for various reasons. By playing dumb about that, and suggesting that 15-year-olds just have to produce a passport (as if many girls that age have one) to get the pill, the Obama administration is insulting our intelligence.
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Anti-choicers aren’t placated by this. Just because pro-choicers are mad doesn’t mean anti-choicers are particularly happy about this, either. On the contrary, right-wing media was completely aghast that the FDA lowered the age limit to 15, repeatedly implying that by denying teenagers access to a drug you take after unprotected sex, you can magically go back in time and make that sex un-happen. Look, the right is iffy about contraception to begin with, and they really hate emergency contraception, because they see it as a “get out of jail free” card for the “crime” of having sex. They’re not going to be happy unless women, particularly teenagers, are not only forced into unwanted pregnancies by lack of access to contraception, but they have to walk around with a maternity shirt that says, “This is what I get for being naughty.” Trying to placate them with “compromises” that prevent most teenagers from getting the drug while letting a few get a hold of it was never going to work.
The public is not fooled into thinking this wasn’t about politics. Did anyone actually think that Sebelius took the unprecedented action of overruling the FDA’s decision in 2011 to make Plan B available without restrictions was due to real concerns about the safety of the drug? We’re not mind readers, but from the get-go it’s been basically impossible to believe that choice was due to anything else but Obama’s unwillingness to have Republicans run dishonest ads claiming he was giving “abortion” pills during the 2012 election, no matter how disingenuous because Plan B actually works by suppressing ovulation, and does not terminate pregnancies. Now that he’s been re-elected, it seems that the main reason to defend the policies is to avoid admitting that Sebelius’s 2011 actions were political in nature. The effect, however, is to reinforce the narrative that the administration is playing politics with women’s health. As Judge Korman said, “If a stay is granted, it will allow the bad-faith, politically-motivated decision of Secretary Sebelius, who lacks any medical or scientific expertise, to prevail—thus justifiably undermining the public’s confidence in the drug approval process.” Refusing to admit you were playing politics is also just playing politics, and no one is fooled.
Women, particularly young women, are not helped. Some people are still out there pretending to believe that they think Plan B is dangerous. Well, not only has the research demonstrated that it’s safe, but common sense should tell you it’s safer than the potential alternative of unintended pregnancy. People who are wringing their hands about “hormones” are, simply put, complete idiots. Plan B is a high dose of levonorgestrel, a synthetic mix of hormones, mostly progesterone. You know what pregnancy dumps lots and lots of in your system? Progesterone. Even if you’ve somehow convinced yourself there’s mysterious dangers lurking in progesterone, then it makes no sense to think a single day of elevated levels of it is more dangerous than nine months of elevated levels.
When women get to say no to pregnancies they don’t want, the only people who are hurt are a bunch of whining conservatives who want to see them punished. In other words, people who should be minding their own business anyway. Continuing to dance around this issue isn’t doing anyone any favors, so please, Obama administration, so just give it up.