An Open Letter to Obama

Dear President Barack Obama,

You and I need to talk.

In the interest of transparency, let me first tell you a few things about myself. I am a 21-year-old female college student and a pro-choice feminist. The first ballot I ever cast as a hopeful and inspired 18-year-old had a hole punched next to your name under the title “President.”

So what has made me so angry? How about your support for Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius’ decision to keep Plan B from becoming over-the-counter? Do you remember that? Because every woman and girl who has ever lived in fear of rape, failed contraception or unplanned pregnancy does. Plan B, also known as the morning-after pill, is currently available without prescription for women age 17 and older, but your administration’s decision now prevents girls younger than 17 from possessing that same bodily autonomy.

Plan B is a pill that, if taken within 72 hours of having sex without protection, may prevent pregnancy. It is not an abortion pill because it stops the egg from ever being fertilized. If a woman or girl is raped, she can take Plan B and drastically lower her risk of pregnancy.

Furthermore, if a woman or girl has consensual sex with a male partner, but the condom breaks, she can take Plan B to protect herself from a pregnancy she is not required to carry. And I find it problematic that I have to describe the worst-case scenarios just to defend Plan B. Even if a woman simply neglects to use protection in the heat of the moment, she deserves to have access to Plan B. It’s her body, not your administration’s.

Obviously, Mr. President, the just arguments of your constituents do not matter much to you. However, one would think that the FDA’s arguments do.

They do not.

In fact, your administration is the first in US history to go against an FDA decision regarding medication.  The FDA stated that they “carefully considered whether younger females were able to understand how to use Plan B …  (It was) determined that the product was safe and effective in adolescent females (and) that (they) understood the product was not for routine use.”

So, when Sebelius refused the FDA’s recommendation, you supported her with the statement: “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… I think most parents would feel the same way.”

Just to make sure I understand your paternalism correctly, Mr. President, you are saying that if girls as young as 10 and 13 (the ages of your daughters, the sources of your fatherly wisdom) are in need of Plan B, they require parental consent to obtain it? Do you realize what must have happened to a 10- or 13-year-old girl if she needs to take Plan B? Do you think every 10 or 13-year-old girl will be able to approach her parents and explain why she needs Plan B? Do you understand that a 10- or 13-year-old girl’s own father could be the reason why she needs Plan B?

Maybe you feel that you’re the type of father who could have this kind of conversation with his daughters, which is good for you. However, you are not our father; you are our president. More importantly, neither fathers nor presidents nor mothers nor anyone reserves the right to dictate what our female bodies should be used for, regardless of age. While the safety of Plan B should render its availability absolute to all ages, I find it both disturbing and infantilizing that, in a decision affecting women as old as 16, you and your administration saw it as acceptable to use elementary school-aged children as the sole defense for your argument.

Perhaps this decision was made to avoid mentioning the (ridiculous) idea that allowing teenagers to access Plan B leads them to promiscuity ¬– since they are not already engaging in sexual intercourse thanks to the other available forms of birth control.

Nonetheless, since you claim to be a pro-choice politician, I will humor you. Let us pretend that your decision truly is about the pill’s apparent dangers and is not another attempt to control female sexuality and reproduction. You defended Sebelius by saying that “The reason Kathleen made this decision was she could not be confident that a 10-year-old or an 11-year-old go 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.” Yes, if Plan B is ingested improperly, one may experience nausea and vomiting.

On the other hand, it is acceptable for Tylenol and Advil to be available to 10-year-olds shopping for bubble gum because if they ingest those improperly, they only risk liver failure, coma and death. So, thank you, Mr. President. Thank you for saving young girls from those pesky side effects so that they can possibly be forced to bear a child instead.

Please listen to the FDA and reverse this decision, or do not call yourself a pro-choice president.

Shame on you and your administration,

Rachel Sanoff

This article originally ran in the Winter 2012 issue of Fem

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