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Morning-after pill rejected
FDA caves in to bigots' pressure

By Elizabeth Schulte | May 14, 2004 | Page 2

THEY SAID it was in the interest of young women's health. Overruling a decision made just five months ago, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced May 6 that it was rejecting over-the-counter sales of the morning-after pill.

The morning-after pill--emergency contraception that is also called "Plan B"--is a higher dose of regular hormonal contraception that, if taken within 72 hours after unprotected intercourse, can cut a woman's chances of pregnancy by up to 89 percent. It has been available by prescription since 1999.

In December, the FDA's scientific advisers voted 23-4 to make the pills available without a prescription. Emergency contraception advocates say that easier access to "Plan B" could reduce the country's 3 million unintended pregnancies each year by as much as half. But the FDA caved, under pressure from right wingers.

The FDA now claims it is worried that research hadn't proven the drug was safe for teenagers. In a letter to Barr Pharmaceuticals, the company that planned to make the drug available over the counter, the FDA said that Barr hadn't provided "adequate data to support a conclusion that Plan B can be used safely by young adolescent women for emergency contraception without the professional supervision of a practitioner."

Anti-choice bigots were delighted to see the FDA collapse. "The FDA is right to be cautious about having a potent drug that can harm women next to candy bars and toothpaste," said Wendy Wright of the anti-abortion group Concerned Women for America.

But Dr. Paul Blumenthal, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital explained to the Chicago Tribune that Plan B wasn't toxic or addictive--and that there's no need for medical screening to use it. "A teen knows she has had sex with a broken condom or an absent condom just as well as an older person," Blumenthal said.

In fact, in 2000, France passed a law allowing high school nurses to provide emergency contraception--and later ordered pharmacies to give it to minors free and without parental permission. Since then, almost 1.5 million non-prescription treatments have been sold, and there have been no reports of medical complications or complaints, according to the French Association for Contraception.

Emergency contraception is available without a prescription in 33 countries, and five states--California, Washington, Alaska, Hawaii and New Mexico--allow women to buy morning-after pills from certain pharmacists without a prescription.

Contrary to the claims of the anti-abortion fanatics in the Bush administration, this isn't about protecting young women. The FDA's decision is about limiting their reproductive choices. Women--no matter what their age--should have easy access to emergency contraception. The FDA should be ashamed of itself.

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