Obama the Patriarch

I usually stay away from commenting on Obama’s presidency because, to be honest, I was just a kid during all the previous presidencies I’ve lived through and really have no comparison to make.

However, a recent statement by Obama has caused me to come out of my apolitical cave and rage. After the FDA made a recommendation that Plan B One-Step, a form of emergency birth control that is available over the counter to anyone over 17, be available to girls under 17 without a prescription as well, Kathleen Sebelius, Obama’s secretary of health and human services, overruled the FDA’s recommendation. This is disappointing enough as is, but then Obama came out in support of her and said the following:

“I will say this, 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….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.”

As usual when I write about women’s issues, I literally don’t even know where to start with this. First, and perhaps most obviously, I don’t understand why we’re having all this conversation about 10- and 11-year-olds. The change would have applied to all girls under 17, and the majority of teenage girls who might need to buy Plan B are not 10 and 11. Try 15 and 16. If Obama and Sebelius are that concerned about 10- and 11-year-olds specifically, they could’ve asked the FDA to recommend allowing only girls 12 and over to get Plan B without a prescription.

Second, and also very tellingly, if the FDA has deemed Plan B safe for over-the-counter use, who are Sebelius and Obama to assume they know better? Sebelius has a BA in political science and an master’s in public administration; Obama has a BA in political science and a law degree. Unlike many cynics, I don’t necessarily doubt that these two have the knowledge and ability to perform their respective jobs, but I would not trust them over the doctors and researchers who staff the FDA when it comes to medical issues.

Third, Obama immediately reveals what this is really about when he says, “as the father of two daughters…” Understandably, Obama would be worried for his two daughters if they were ever in a position to need Plan B. However, for all of the battling that Obama has had to do with the Far Right of this country, he clearly doesn’t seem to realize that many girls don’t have daddies like Obama who would care for them, be able to afford doctors’ appointments, support their right to get an abortion, and guide them through a decision. For many girls, it would be a choice between obtaining Plan B on their own or being shamed, abused, disowned, and/or forced to carry a baby to term.

Finally, I’m disturbed by the ageist and patriarchal notion that young women are somehow incapable of making their own decisions about sexual health. Yes, children need and should have access to guidance from adults. In a perfect world, every girl would be able to go to her parents for help with something like this. But that’s not the world we live in, and we must make do accordingly. Not only has the FDA already determined that Plan B is safe, but, unlike many medications that are available over the counter to children, you can’t overdose on it or otherwise fuck it up–when you buy it, you only get one.

Furthermore, there are other ways to make sure young teens know what they’re doing when it comes to emergency birth control. For instance, mandate pharmacists to provide an option for girls to privately ask them questions about how to use Plan B. Pharmacists know a lot. Why not use them as a resource?

Much has been made of Obama’s failure (or lack thereof) to support women’s rights, and it’s a debate I don’t normally follow because one can really spin it either way. On this issue, however, I would argue that Obama has definitively failed to support women and girls. Instead, he has promoted the antiquated notion that beliefs trump science when it comes to reproductive rights.

Obama the Patriarch

14 thoughts on “Obama the Patriarch

  1. 1

    All true, but it’s an election year. If some doctrinaire, family values type gets elected, it would be far worse.

    The “he’s better than the alternative” arguement isn’t the most compelling reason to vote for somebody. But if you’re holding back a deluge, sometimes you tolerate minor leaks in the levee. Look at the line up of candidates for the other party. Who would any of them appoint as HHS Secretary. I shudder.

    1. 1.1

      I definitely see the political motives here. I just wish he’d chosen someone other than young girls to use as political pawns.

      Maybe we’ll get luckier in the next election.

      1. Eh, the issues get handed to him as they come up, he doesn’t get to pick and choose. I still agree that this is disappointing, though. I think Obama’s being a little too cautious with his politics, honestly. This is the type of thing that would most likely have blown over long before it could’ve had any effect on the election. The Republicans would’ve sniped at him about it for three weeks, maybe for, and then deemed it too old of an issue to continue harping on.

  2. 2

    This is rather disappointing (on Obama’s part, not on yours). First of all, I’m annoyed whenever anyone, Obama or not, uses “as a parent” as some sort of qualifier. The ability to produce viable offspring does not put your opinions on par with the educated recommendation of highly trained doctors, whether it be in regards to EC, vaccinations, or any other sort of medical care.

    Also, I’m frustrated with his fallacious argument that he’s not comfortable with ten and eleven year olds being able to purchase EC. The theoretically could, but they have no need to. They wouldn’t buy EC, any more than they’d buy multivitamins for seniors, or any more than I’d buy tampons. I had hoped Obama was above this nonsense.

      1. That’s why I said it was unlikely as ME going off to buy tampons 😉 Regardless, the point still stands that people, no matter the age, don’t just go out and buy EC for funsies.

        1. HAHA. This reminds me of the conservative argument against comprehensive sex ed–that people will go out and screw each other in droves JUST BECAUSE they’ve been told how to do it safely.

    1. 3.1

      Normally I would be more concerned about that, but not in light of these facts:

      1. Plan B has already been deemed safe by the FDA–without prescription for everyone over 17 and with it for everyone younger. This isn’t a case of an entirely new medication being approved.
      2. As I mentioned, unlike many medications that ARE available over the counter, Plan B is impossible to overdose on because you only receive one pill when you buy it.
      3. On a similar note, most potentially dangerous drugs are dangerous specifically because you take them regularly over a long period of time–for instance, ibuprofin and liver damage. This is also the area in which there’s the least research–with many newer drugs, doctors simply don’t know what the effect of taking them for a long period of time is because they haven’t been available long enough to do that sort of research. But again, this isn’t an issue with Plan B.
      4. We currently have no evidence that Plan B is dangerous for young teens. We DO, however, have plenty of evidence that pregnancy and childbirth is dangerous for them, both physically and psychologically. In that regard, this is a case of the lesser of two evils.
      5. Unlike drugs such as, say, anti-depressants, we know exactly how Plan B works. This means there is less of a potential for completely unpredicted negative effects.
      6. The opposition is coming not from anyone qualified to judge, but from someone who’s claiming that it’s “common sense” to restrict ECs to young teens because…well, just because.

  3. 5

    Maybe this is stupid of me, but one of the most frustrating things to me about Obama’s statement is that Plan B could be found next to the “bubble gum or batteries.” Seriously, has this guy ever set food inside a Target!?

    I can understand where he’s coming from as a parent. But assuming that every family is like yours is just ridiculous. Not every girl has a parent (or parents) they can talk to about this type of stuff.

    1. 5.1

      Oh, I didn’t even think about that, but that is indeed ridiculous. Nobody’s going to just accidentally stumble upon Plan B while looking for candy, that’s for sure.

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