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August 24, 2006

Good News on Emergency Contraception Front

The FDA, under pressure from Senators Hillary Clinton and our own Patty Murray, approved over-the-counter sales of the emergency contraception pill for women 18 and older.  The drug, called Plan B, is manufactured by Barr Laboratories.  It is currently only available by prescription and then only if the pharmacy and pharmacist are willing to fill the prescription.  With any luck, much of that controversy will go away. 

Over-the-counter distribution of the drug has been held up for three years under three different FDA commissioners as a result of the opposition of anti-abortion groups.  Since the pill prevents fertilization, there is nothing resembling abortion involved.  Abortion rights advocates have pushed to get over-the-counter status in order to prevent more abortions, contending that the use of Plan B would sharply reduce the nearly 1 million abortions performed every year.   The differing stances by these groups brings up the interesting question of who really is trying to prevent abortion and who is just posturing.   

The New York Times, in their article on the approval this morning, documents a lot of pressure from the White House on doctors working with or at the FDA to stop or slow this decision, purely on political grounds. 

The director of the agency’s office of women’s health resigned last year to protest what she said was the “abortion politics” behind the delay in approving Plan B. An investigation by the Government Accountability Office concluded that top agency officials had decided to reject the initial Plan B application months before a scientific review was complete.

Sworn depositions show that some of the agency’s science staff members were convinced that no amount of scientific evidence would have persuaded the agency’s political appointees to approve the application.

It took some muscle by two of our female Senators, and is this ever an argument for more Democratic women in positions of power.  Here's the story from the NYT article:

Sen. Hillary Clinton, a Democrat from New York, and Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington State, became so concerned about the delays surrounding Plan B that they placed a legislative hold on Dr. Crawford’s nomination last year as F.D.A. commissioner.

The senators lifted the hold after Health and Human Services Secretary Michael O. Leavitt promised that the F.D.A. would act on the Plan B application by Sept. 1 of last year. Dr. Crawford was confirmed.

The agency then announced a further delay in the application, something Ms. Murray said in an interview amounted to “the worst double-cross I’ve ever seen in my time in the Senate.” Mr. Leavitt responded that the delay amounted to “an action.”

When Dr. Crawford unexpectedly resigned weeks later, the senators said that they would not be fooled again. They have held up Dr. von Eschenbach’s nomination to become commissioner, saying that this time they want a Plan B decision first.

This morning's announcement came one hour before Dr. von Eshenbach's nomination was scheduled to come up again before the Senate.  Nice work, ladies!

Posted by Lynn Allen on August 24, 2006 at 10:50 AM in National and International Politics | Permalink

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