Picture if you will: a 17-year-old girl in a pharmacy, the morning after, not a little horrified by her current dilemma. Whatever transpired the night before—carelessness with a boyfriend, date rape, stranger rape—she now finds herself in a race against time to keep from getting pregnant. “Plan B, Plan B” she tells herself, scanning the shelves, remembering that this high-dose birth control can effectively block a pregnancy if taken within 72 hours of sexual intercourse (although it’s most effective within 24 hours).
Nearly all major industrialized nations have approved Plan B without restrictions for many years, recognizing it’s efficacy in preventing unwanted pregnancies. Now, thanks to Tummino vs. Torti, a recent judgment from the federal district court, the day will soon be here when 17-year-olds won’t have to get a time-wasting prescription for this perfectly safe contraceptive, once erroneously tagged as an abortifacient. Gone are the years of stonewalling and outright lies about the drug used by the Bush Administration to turn the FDA from a science-based to faith-based arm of the government.
The Tummino vs. Torti judgment exposes many “arbitary and capricious” acts masquerading as medical due diligence. With pressure from the White House, the FDA had stalled confirmation of Plan B’s OTC (over the counter) status for years, citing bogus safety concerns.
One particularly egregious tactic was when the administration claimed the OTC-switch advisory committee lacked a “balance of opinion”. ( I guess a cadre of medical and science professionals adept at research and clinical trials was a little too uniform.) Eventually, Right to Life ideologues with far less experience were tossed into the mix. Still, science won out and in 2003 the advisory committee voted 23-4 in favor of eliminating age restrictions on procurement of Plan B. That should have been the end of a long, hard fight, right? Wrong. The FDA rejected this advice, the only OTC-switch recommendation they rejected in10 years.
By approving the lowering of age restrictions on Plan B the court simply recognizes that 17-year-olds with the wherewithal to connect a reckless night with preventative measures deserve our support. What they don’t deserve, even if their judgment often falls short? A bunch of political kowtowing dressed up to look like best-practice medicine.
Was the federal court right to lower age restrictions on Plan B?
Picture if you will, the fact that if you repeat a falsehood often enough, people will actually believe it. Andy perpetuates the “politics prevented Plan B” myth repeated in loaded news stories. Since when did news reporters stop fact-checking? Silly question, I know.
The 2003 FDA advisory committee, stacked with leftover Clinton appointees, was the one putting politics over science. The FDA must be sure a drug is both effective and safe for its proposed usage, and Plan B has never been proven safe for over the counter use – especially for minors.
Plan B is the same drug as the regular birth control pill – which requires a prescription – only 25 times stronger! Since medical reasons (like avoiding blood clots) require taking the low-dose pill only under a doctor’s care, Bush officials were right to overturn the advisory committee’s blithe, unprecedented assurance that the turbo version would be fine without one, thank you. It was the only such case in10 years because it was the most absurd, unscientific decision in10 years.
Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America, testified at that advisory committee meeting (“ground zero” she said in our interview), and explains, “there are activists and advocates for the drug on the committee,” not just the impartial scientists Andy believes.
Today, conservative warnings about Plan B have come to pass, and OTC nations like the U.K. have seen the inevitable consequences: women taking it 40 times in a row, schools giving it to 11-year-olds like candy, and health officials warning of serious health complications such as infertility. Federal District Judge Korman ignored all that, relying on incorrect information instead. (Maybe he’s been reading the news, too…) Wright pointed out, “His decision said Plan B would be 89 percent effective and decrease abortions – the same thing advocates originally said to get it OTC! Yet even prominent advocates of Plan B and medical journals now say it does not reduce pregnancies and abortions.”
Parents should be furious with a judge undermining their oversight and their girls’ safety based on a myth. “Teenagers,” Wright says, “still need a parental signature for tanning beds and field trips, but not to get a high dose hormone drug, with serious side effects.”
That is politics, not best-practice medicine.