In what is a rare occurrence on MSNBC, one of the panelists actually challenged the conventional liberal view on one of its daytime shows. The most recent example occurred on Now w/ Alex Wagner on April 9, when Ron Fournier of National Journal rejected the panel’s arguments that the Plan B pill should be available over-the-counter to all girls, regardless of age.
The segment began with host Alex Wagner seemingly perplexed at the Obama Administration’s initial position that girls under 17 should have to obtain a prescription for Plan B. Wagner commented that:
Although the administration claimed common sense was at the root of its decision, officials acknowledge that that the real reason Sebelius chose to go against scientific advice was that doing otherwise would be two controversial for a president grappling with critics of his health care plan and its controversial contraception mandate. [See video after jump. MP3 audio here.]
The MSNBC panel featured a slew of liberals, including NARAL pro-choice America board member and soon-to-be MSNBC host, Karen Finney. Fournier, who himself is no conservative, challenged the rest of the panel, arguing that:
If you get out of the coast and out of studios like this and out of news rooms out in middle America, I don't think you have to be a Republican or a conservative to have, to have some pause about the idea of your kids being able to walk into a drug store and get the morning after pill. I think that is disconcerting to some people and the president and your party needs to think about that.
While it is refreshing to see an MSNBC panelist challenge conventional liberal talking points, unfortunately Wagner and the rest of her panel didn't want an actual policy discussion. Indeed, they seemed completely lost as to why the average American might think Judge Korman's ruling was insane.
See relevant transcript below.
Now w/ Alex Wagner
April 9, 2013
12:48 p.m. EDT
BARACK OBAMA: As the father of two 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.
ALEX WAGNER: That was President Obama in 2011, standing by HHS Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius's decision to prevent girls from under 17 from obtaining the morning after pill without a prescription. When Sebelius made that decision she went against scientific advice given to her by scientists at the FDA, the American Medical Association, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Although the administration claimed common sense was at the root of its decision, officials acknowledge that that the real reason Sebelius chose to go against scientific advice was that doing otherwise would be two controversial for a president grappling with critics of his health care plan and its controversial contraception mandate. Now that the ruling has been struck down by a district court and the president has been re-elected. The fate of Plan B looks slightly more certain. If only the same could be said for the fate of women's reproductive rights on whole. Karen, let's talk about this decision. Because we were talking during break, it was, the question, the question of contraception coverage in the affordable care act remains a contested issue. I mean there is talk that the fight is not yet over on that. At the time it was perhaps more politically expedient to say we're not going to make the morning after pill available to women of all ages. Do you think that the Obama Administration regrets that or has in any way mixed feelings with this current decision being handed down?
KAREN FINNEY: I don't think so. I mean as we were talking about from a purely political, not policy, not morals or what have you, from a purely political standpoint, this worked out perfectly for the administration. Because essentially, as you said in your column, read, that you have a republican judge, basically saying -- shame on you, to a Democratic administration on this issue. So now the administration can just kind of walk away, lean back, walk away from it and not actually have to and also he's been re-elected. He does not have to take this issue on in the same way that he's going to have to, he still has to take on birth control obviously access to other forms of birth control and the other erosion of women's rights.
WAGNER: Okay, Ron, Elizabeth Dwoskin Bloomberg agrees with Karen’s assessment and says don’t expect the president to criticize the court’s ruling too loudly.in overturning the policy, Judge Korman may have done Obama a favor: defusing a source of tension with women voters while drawing the ire of the religious right away from the president and toward the courts.
RON FOURNIER: Let me just throw in a note of caution and give the president a little bit of due here. You put quote marks around his common sense. I actually think there’s something to that. Let's assume for a second first of all that he really believed that it's common sense not to have morning after pills next to batteries and bubble gum. I would also posit that if you get out of the coast and out of studios like this and out of news rooms out in middle America, I don't think you have to be a republican or a conservative to have, to have some pause about the idea of your kids being able to walk into a drug store and get the morning after pill. I think that is disconcerting to some people and the president and your party needs to think about that.
WAGNER: David, the president, we played that sound, I mean he couched this in personal experience. He said as the father of two daughters, I don't, I mean he expressed apprehension about them being able to buy the morning after pill. Now whether or not that fit into sort of the political calculus, now he has the sort of uncomfortable position of what, sort of walking that back? Or doing nothing? And saying I'm now okay with them having access?
DAVID SIROTA: I think it's sort of don't ask don't tell. Like it’s just I don’t want to talk about it, I’m not going to go back to that. But I do think the court makes an important precedent here. Which says that when it comes to a woman and her body and her relationship with her doctor, physician, that she should have access to these things and the president -- it's not necessarily in conflict with what the president said about common sense. As a parent, I totally understand the idea of wanting to make sure that you're as involved as possible, but underscoring as possible. In those health care decisions, but there are women who don't have parents, who or there are women who have parents who may not want them to do that. Or it may cause family controversy it may cause a family crisis. So the law has a responsibility, the law to weigh in on the part -- of the individual in this case.
WAGNER: And we're seeing Frank this is a Reagan appointed judge, returning to actually a bedrock foundational principle of conservatism.
FRANK BRUNI: I also think we need to judge, we can be fantasists or realists when it comes to teen sexuality. And a lot of this debate has been informed by this notion that if you make these pills available without prescription to girls under 17, you're telling them it's okay to have sex. No you’re not telling them it’s okay. You're telling them you don't want them to have an unwanted pregnancy. Which brings us to the abortion fights in all the states. One of the best ways to move beyond the states and to limit the number of abortions, which is a goal that everybody across the political spectrum shares is to diminish unwanted pregnancies. Making Plan B more available, diminishes unwanted pregnancies.
FINNEY: You know to that point, Guttmacher put a report that basically showed over the period 2005-
WAGNER: The Guttmacher Institute which frequently does studies of these sorts of things, to those of us not speaking Gutmacher shorthand.
FINNEY: And I should also disclose that I am on the board of NARAL Pro-choice America, but looking at 2005-2008 which is when the data was available, the rate of sexual activity among teenagers stayed the same. However, teen pregnancy rates actually went down. It went up in a handful of states like Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, unfortunately, states that are now, we're not just talking about limiting access to the legal procedure of abortion, limiting access to birth control. But now limiting access to sex education so that kids would have the information to not get pregnant.
BRUNI: I would love to live in a world where fewer kids have sex at a young age. But in the world we live in, I want kids to have the right information and if they make a mistake, God help them, I don't want them to have to deal with an unwanted pregnancy. I’d rather them take Plan B then have to have an abortion
FINNEY: What if they were raped, what if they were molested or abused.