It's hard to see how politics played no role in the Obama administration's decision not to let teenage girls buy the emergency-contraception, morning-after pill known as Plan B.
With the White House's first reversal of a Food and Drug Administration decision, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has set a dangerous precedent. But give FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg credit for publicly defending her position in a rare public split with the Obama administration.
Sebelius expressed concern that girls as young as 11 might not use Plan B properly. Her decision last week means Plan B will be available without a prescription only to women who can prove that they are at least 17.
President Obama said he supported Sebelius' decision, citing his personal concern as a father of two young 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," he said.
Obama has been a strong advocate of reproductive rights, which made his position more disappointing. Critics voiced concern that, going into an election year, he decided to take a conservative position on the controversial morning-after pill.
Advocates have made a strong case for giving teenage girls easier access to emergency contraception because they may be more likely to need it. Proponents also noted that Plan B is sold over the counter in more than 40 countries.
Quick access is essential. Plan B works best when taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex. The high-dose birth-control pill can cut the chances of pregnancy as much as 89 percent.
Making it more difficult for girls to get the morning-after pill is unlikely to affect the number of them having sex. But the pill could help reduce the number of abortions in this country. Nearly two-thirds of births to women younger than age 18 are unintended, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.