In 2008, Barack Obama was asked to explain his support for contraceptive-based sex education. He replied: "I've got two daughters, 9 years old and 6 years old. I am going to teach them first of all about values and morals. But if they make a mistake, I don't want them punished with a baby…"
Last week, he invoked his daughters again in the context of contraceptives and abortifacients, but this time to strike an ostensibly conservative stance against easy access to them. "I will say this, as the father of two young daughters: I think it is important for us to make sure that, you know, we apply some common sense to various rules when it comes to over-the-counter medicine," he said.
Obama was backing up the supposedly independent decision of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to reject the FDA's approval of over-the-counter purchases by minors of Plan B One-Step, an emergency contraceptive and abortifacient. Obama said that as a parent it troubles him to imagine minors picking it up alongside "bubble gum" and "batteries."
Liberal groups are outraged by this decision and dismayed by Obama's sudden paternalism. They see in it an election-conscious Plan B two step; he simply wants to take an issue away from the Republicans next year. Had George W. Bush's HHS overruled the FDA on this matter, they note, Obama would have been the first to denounce it as "anti-science."
In 2009, Obama had made a show of signing a memorandum that gave government scientists immunity from politics. "This Order is an important step in advancing the cause of science in America. But let's be clear: promoting science isn't just about providing resources -- it is also about protecting free and open inquiry," he said at the memo signing. "It is about letting scientists like those here today do their jobs, free from manipulation or coercion, and listening to what they tell us, even when it's inconvenient - especially when it's inconvenient."
But for all this bluster the FDA's decision proved too inconvenient for him. What scares him is not the thought of minors buying abortifacients with their bubble gum but Republicans turning that scenario into an attack ad.
Sebelius was clearly put up to the decision. Despite his words of support, Obama made sure to leave her holding the bag; he insisted to the press that she decided the matter all on her own. Consequently, she now holds a distinction dreaded by any liberal: she is the first HHS Secretary to veto a ruling by the FDA. Since she normally reveres FDA scientists, her stated scientific opposition to their decision -- she vaguely asserted in a press release that they didn't prove their case -- can't be taken seriously. Nor do grounds exist for thinking that morality drove the decision; Sebelius, contrary to Obama's spinning, didn't say a word about concern over parental anxieties in her veto announcement.
Moreover, Sebelius has a long record in opposition to parental consent and notification laws. She has never objected to minors obtaining abortifacients without parental knowledge before, and even now she doesn't object to minors obtaining prescriptions for them through doctors. So whatever quibble she has with the FDA's decision is wholly political.
Obama says that her veto rests upon "common sense." That's his euphemism for political circumspection. Just as he knows it is not quite safe yet politically to endorse gay marriage openly, so he hesitates before approving of over-the-counter abortifacients for minors. To scoop up independent voters next year, he knows that he has to cast himself as a moderate, no matter how ludicrous this stance appears next to his record.
Insisting that doctors, rather than CVS clerks, guide minors to abortifacients constitutes credible proof of moderation in his mind. Republicans, skittish about social issues themselves, will probably let him get away with this charade.
His citing of parental concerns is utterly phony, since he doesn't think parents should have any say over the abortifacient prescription the doctor gives the child. Also, it bears repeating that as a state senator in Illinois and then a U.S. Senator he always voted against parental consent laws. Even mere parental notification was too much for him. He wanted an America free of such retrograde restrictions, a revivified country whose liberated daughters would be the spared the shackles of a baby.