Obama’s Reactionary Crusade Against Teen Birth Control

Workers Vanguard

On April 26, Obama addressed a meeting of Planned Parenthood—one of the main providers of contraceptive and abortion services in the country. At the gala he intoned, “When it comes to a woman’s health, no politician should get to decide what’s best for you.” Just days after this display of shameless hypocrisy, the White House announced on May 1 it would challenge a federal court order that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) make “emergency contraceptives available without a prescription and without point-of-sale or age restrictions within thirty days.” With its legal appeal, the Obama administration again made clear its intentions to “decide what’s best” for teenage women.

Judge Edward Korman, who made the April 5 court ruling and subsequently rejected the government motion for a stay in mid May, lambasted the Obama administration and the FDA in his rulings and in the courtroom. He noted, “The effort to convert these levonorgestrel-based contraceptives from prescription to over-the-counter status has gone on for over twelve years, even though they would be among the safest drugs available to children and adults on any drugstore shelf.” He dismissed some government arguments as “an insult to the intelligence of women.”

Ten years ago, an FDA advisory committee voted overwhelmingly to approve over-the-counter access to the morning-after pill for all women. But the FDA never put this recommendation into effect, due to political pressure from the Bush administration. Then in December 2011 the FDA ruled that the Plan B One-Step pill could be sold over the counter to women of all ages. But the Secretary of Health and Human Services, backed by President Obama, made the unprecedented move of immediately overruling the agency. The government’s appeal of the April 5 ruling was endorsed by anti-abortion outfits like the Susan B. Anthony List, which promotes several religious fanatics of the Republican Tea Party, like Paul Ryan and Michele Bachmann.

This administration has shown time and again that, despite not being the bizarrely “faith-based” regime it replaced, it is still beholden to religious moralism. Both administrations have been adamant that young people should not have sex, or—since everyone knows teens do it anyway—they should suffer the consequences. We say all contraception must be provided free of charge on demand, with no age or ID restrictions, no waiting periods and no state or parental control!

For politicians committed to the moral regimentation of society, accepting the reality of teenage sex is anathema. A comment from the New England Journal of Medicine (12 January 2012) has been proven right many times: “Any objective review makes it clear that Plan B is more dangerous to politicians than to adolescent girls.” And the government’s interference in the sexual lives of young people is not limited to birth control and abortion. Many teens also risk seeing their adult lovers jailed and put on a sex offenders list—especially if they are gay or lesbian (see article on page 9). Government out of the bedroom!

In this case the federal court is taking the exceedingly rare action of upholding scientific progress and basic liberties for women. But it is a debilitating illusion to rely on the courts of the class enemy to champion women’s rights. For decades, the bourgeois feminists’ dependence on the capitalist courts and the ballot box has aided the attacks on abortion by demobilizing protest. Feminist organizations like NARAL Pro-Choice America and the National Organization for Women hustle the vote for Democratic presidents who will appoint Supreme Court justices that maybe, just maybe, will “keep it safe and legal” for those who can afford it. This strategy reflects their capitalist outlook and social base as spokesmen for mostly white, successful, petty-bourgeois women. For free abortion on demand!

On April 30, the FDA announced new guidelines that the White House, the FDA and the drug company Teva carefully crafted to look like a reform, while changing very little in reality. This was a calculated maneuver by the White House to head off protest against its appeal of the court order issued just weeks earlier. The new FDA guidelines only remove the prescription requirement for 15- and 16-year-olds who want to buy Plan B One-Step. But this allowance does not apply to other emergency contraception on the market, thus preserving preferential market position for the Teva product. The morning-after pill can still only be bought from a registered pharmacy, and ID is required for everyone who wants to buy it. But very few teenagers have government-issued ID, not to mention the cool $50 the price-gouging drug company charges for the little 1.5 mg tablet.

The U.S. teen pregnancy rate is one of the highest in the developed world, more than twice as high as the rates in Canada and Sweden. Young black and Latina women suffer the highest rates, reflecting their limited access to health care in this deeply racist, class-divided society. Together with undocumented immigrants, they are the least likely to have photo ID. The effectiveness of the morning-after pill declines swiftly—it needs to be taken as soon as possible after sex. Fast, no-hassle access is key. All the delays caused by overcoming the prescription and ID requirements, not to mention finding the money to pay for it and an open pharmacy willing to sell it, combine to massively reduce the effectiveness of the drug.

The attacks on women’s rights and on the limited abortion services still available have escalated during the years of the Obama presidency. Already in 2008, 87 percent of all counties in the U.S. had no abortion providers. In recent years Republicans in state legislatures have spearheaded the attacks, but the Democrats have their share of responsibility. Obama has consistently renewed the Hyde Amendment, signed into law by fellow Democrat Jimmy Carter, which eliminated federal funding of abortions. Obama’s signature first-term act on health care, the Affordable Care Act, was renegotiated to appease reactionary bishops at the expense of women workers in Catholic institutions who have to go elsewhere for insurance coverage for contraception. The act specifies that funds will not be used for abortion services, and it allocates $250 million for ludicrous “abstinence only” miseducation.

Obama concluded his April 26 speech to Planned Parenthood by saying, “As long as we’ve got to fight to protect a woman’s right to make her own choices about her own health, I want you to know that you’ve also got a President who’s going to be right there with you fighting every step of the way.” Well, Obama’s fighting record is crystal clear—against progress, reason, science and women’s rights. The fact that Planned Parenthood rolls out the red carpet for Obama—who upholds the same policies as Bush on teen birth control—shows how the Democrats are more effective than the Republicans at greasing the skids for attacks. Witness the lack of social protests against Obama’s war crimes abroad, the layoffs and speedups demanded by the capitalists at home, and the ongoing reality of racist oppression.

In our article, “White House Obstructs Morning-After Pill for Teens” (WV No. 993, 6 January 2012), we said:

“The Obama administration’s ruling on the morning-after pill shows that the religion-drenched, cruel priorities of bourgeois electoral politics trump the needs of some of the most vulnerable members of society. Sexual repression is all about social control. The capitalist class seeks to buttress the family—the main social institution oppressing women—which along with organized religion and the state forms a triad that props up the exploitation of labor.”

As representatives of the capitalist class, the Democratic politicians are just as much enemies of the workers and oppressed as the Republicans are. Our perspective is to forge a revolutionary workers party as a tribune of the people. Only the working class, by taking power in its own name, can build a society in which women and youth are not second-class citizens but play a full, productive role. A future socialist society will apply the highest scientific technique in the service of people’s health and well-being. 

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