Protecting Parental Rights: Kathleen Sebelius makes the right call on Plan B

Health and Human Services Secretary Sebelius overturned the FDA's decision to make the controversial “morning after pill,” or Plan-B One Step, available to everyone. Photo: AP Images

WASHINGTON, December 1, 2011― The support for letting children as young as 11 and 12 have access to the so called “morning after” pill is baffling because it is equivalent to giving kids carte blanche permission to engage in risky sexual behavior knowing that they could easily waltz into their local drug story and purchase a “fix” if something goes wrong. 

In the back of their mind, there is always Plan B.  Certainly, they could access it with parental or adult intervention, but without that hurdle, easy access could create an incentive to kids, who shouldn’t be promiscuious in the first place, to get carried away in sexual behavior.

Wednesday, the Health and Human Services Secretary overturned the Federal Drug Administration’s decision to make the controversial “morning after pill,” also known as Plan-B One Step, available to everyone.  Currently, the pill is available without prescription to individuals over 17, but pharmacies keep the drug behind the counter and dispense it only after customers prove their age. 

Women and reproductive rights groups are criticizing HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, saying her decision was a political move to appease conservatives and Republicans at the cost of science. 

They argue that research, including studies funded by Plan B manufacturer Teva Pharmaceutical Industries which has an interest and financial stake in having its drug widely available, indicates the drug is safe to use. The pill is effective in preventing pregnancy by restricting ovulation or blocking the implantation of a fertilized egg when patients take it within 72 hours of having unprotected sex.

Of course pro-life groups, some who believe life begins at conception and not necessarily implantation in the uterus which this drug prevents, are happy with the decision.

Thank goodness Kathleen Sebelius protected the rights of parents  when she overruled FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg’s authority.  The label instructions for the drug may be challenging for young teens to understand, Sebelius claimed. 

Additionally, she said, Teva Pharmaceuticals’ studies did not contain data for use by all ages.

Hamburg said in a statement that she agreed with her agency’s staffers that there was adequate “science-based evidence that Plan B One-Step is safe and effective and should be approved for nonprescription use for all females of childbearing potential.”

But just because an 11-year old has the potential to bear a child doesn’t mean she should be given an incentive to succumb to pressure to have unprotected sex or get carried away in the act.

That is exactly what wide availability to Plan-B does.

Unsurprisingly, the topic sparked heated discussion and debate at water coolers, over the blogosphere, Twitterverse and on Facebook group and member walls.  Several online petitions are circulating asking the White House to reverse course. 

Opponents inevitably will file lawsuits. 

Thursday, during an address to the press, President Obama said he had no hand in the decision but  supported it.

“[As] the father of two daughters, I think it is important for us to make sure that we apply some common sense to various rules when it comes to over-the-counter medicine,” Obama said.

“And as I understand it, the reason Kathleen made this decision was she could not be confident that a 10-year-old or an 11-year-old going into a drugstore should be able — alongside bubble gum or batteries — be able to buy a medication that potentially, if not used properly, could end up having an adverse effect. And I think most parents would probably feel the same way.”

Parents are split perhaps across prolife v. pro choice lines.

If a teen has engaged in the type of risky behavior that would lead to the need for plan B, that adolescent’s parents ought to be given the opportunity to decide how she or he will handle the situation. The current law doesn’t prevent a teen under 17 from getting the drug.  But it does provide an opportunity for dialog on sex, pregnancy prevention, emotions, hormones that the parent or parental unit may not have had before.

After discussion, the parent and not the child can make the determination on the next steps and if she or he sees fit, can get the drug.  All this can be done within 3 days. 

It would be unfortunate that the first time a parent would be forced to have that conversation would be after their teen has had unprotected sex, but better late than never, right?

The argument on the other side is that kids will have reckless sex anyway, and those involved in reckless sexual acts likely don’t have an open relationship with their parents or  aren’t fortunate to have parents who know how to talk to them about these issues.  They say even if that relationship exists, a kid would not necessarily  turn to their parents if they believe they may have gotten pregnant. 

Those professing that line of thinking believe giving kids easy access to Plan B is the best way to prevent unwanted pregnancy in a one off event.

To the contrary, education is the key and not giving them carte blanche access to an easy fix. Remember, the fix is available, but after consultation and disclosure to an adult.

Further, those supporting easy access conveniently forget that the behavior that would lead a teen to want plan B is also the type of behavior that would have put them at risk for contracting HIV or some other sexually transmitted disease. The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive topics of discussion. 

With easy access to Plan B, some teens would opt against using protection and may get “caught up in the heat of the moment” because in the back of their mind, they would know they could get the Plan B pill at their local drug store.  Easy access would enable them to put their emotions ahead of their brains and thinking, thereby exposing themselves to a host of diseases.

Those pro-easy morning after pill access advocates would skip right over parental rights and are willing to discount and discard parental controls so children as young as 12 or 13 can have carefree access to this drug.

It’s not about taking a head in the sand approach to teen sex, because no doubt teenagers do and will continue to have sex, with or without their parent’s knowledge.

However, if a parent and child have not communicated openly about sex before, and that teen child finds herself or himself in the position of needing the Plan B pill, having to go to a parent or another adult figure for access would open up the opportunity to dialog about sex, protection, abstinence, pressure and the other issues the teen had been going through up until that point.

Without that access,  teens could continue engaging in risky behavior until they acquire a disease or wind up pregnant.

 This is not about reproductive rights. It’s not a political issue. This is about parental rights. It’s a public health issue.

Since when is it okay to be fighting for the reproductive rights of a teenager who should be spending the teen years worrying about what to wear to the skate party, where they are going to college and how they’re going to spend their allowance money, not whether they can get a fix for promiscuous behavior?

The liberal support of young teens having wide access to post-sex contraception is part of the slow, but steady unraveling of moral code in this country.

Let everyone be free to do as they please and deal with the consequences afterwards is the liberal mantra apparently.

How about that energy be spent on fighting for tools and education to empower teens with strength, self-esteem and power to resist risky behavior and avoid the compromising situations that would require Plan B in the first place?

For the other side of the Plan B debate, read Life with Lisa, Lisa Ruth:

Plan B birth control gives desperate girls options

Read more Politics of Raising Children in The Communities at the Washington Times. Follow Jeneba Ghatt at @JenebaSpeaks. Her work can also be read at Jeneba Speaks and  She also co-hosts a Blog Talk Radio show called Right of Black which tackles current events and politics from a perspective not often seen in the mainstream media.


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Jeneba Ghatt
Jeneba Jalloh Ghatt is a former journalist turned lawyer turned citizen journalist. Currently, she manages her boutique communications law firm, where she has represented small businesses and nationally-recognized civil and consumer rights organizations before the United States Supreme Court, federal courts and the FCC. She also covers the White House and US Congress for the online news site while authoring her own influential blog which is frequently accessed by top policy makers and think tanks, and the investment community. focuses on the intersection of politics and technology and reports on policies and rules in the communications and tech sector.
Before opening her law firm, The Ghatt Law Group, which was the first communications firm owned by women and minorities, Jeneba regulated Comcast and Starpower as the Assistant General Counsel for the District of Columbia's Office of Cable Television and Telecommunications, and at one point was the only communications regulatory attorney in the entire city. She is founding member and policy chair for a new trade association, the National Association of Multicultural Digital Entrepreneurs and provides advice and counsel to new businesses in the tech industry, particularly small businesses owned by women and minorities.

Born in Sierra Leone, West Africa, but raised in the United States by her Catholic mom and Muslim dad, she started her college career creating web content for one of the earliest websites in history while working part time for the University of Maryland's Office of Technology. Following her graduation from the Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law, she founded and co-wrote one of the earliest blogs and since then has gone on to found and author six different widely read and influential blogs. She was one of only 22 writers and bloggers to attend the first White House summit for African American media.
She holds a Certificate in Communications Law Studies from Catholic; a Juris Doctor from there as well, and a Master of Law in advocacy degree from the Georgetown University Law Center where she first taught and lectured as a Staff Attorney and Graduate fellow at that law school's Institute for Public Representation. She later went on to teach Media Law at the University of Maryland at College Park and guest lecture at Yale Law School and Penn State University, College of Telecommunications. She is well skilled and versed with social media and manages several Twitter, Facebook, Linked In accounts and groups.
She sits on the board of several non profits and trade associations.

Contact Jeneba Ghatt


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