Monday, Aug. 28, 2006 | 7:23 a.m.
After years of contentious debate, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday approved over-the-counter sales of the Plan B "morning after" emergency contraceptive to women 18 and older.
The decision calls for selling the pill only in pharmacies and health clinics, and anyone younger than 18 still will need a prescription to obtain it. According to a story by The New York Times, Andrew von Eschenbach, acting FDA director, said 18 was a proper age cutoff because sales of nicotine products and cold medicines also are restricted in that manner. We support the FDA's decision to make Plan B accessible to women because it helps prevent unwanted pregnancies, which in turn can lead to a decrease in abortions.
Testimony from FDA staff and Congress' watchdog organization, the Government Accountability Office, have suggested that political pressure has played a part in Plan B's restrictions. It is clear to us that the White House bullied the FDA into dragging its feet on the approval. Although the drug prevents pregnancies in the same way that the birth control pill does, abortion foes opposed giving Plan B over-the-counter status - first fearing it would promote promiscuity among girls and later saying it could lead to an increase in sexually transmitted diseases.
A 2005 GAO report suggested that FDA's three-year reluctance to lift the prescription requirement for Plan B was politically motivated. The GAO called the agency's initial rejection of over-the-counter sales "novel" and said it "did not follow the FDA's traditional practices." The director of the FDA's office of women's health resigned last year in protest of what she called the "abortion politics" behind Plan B's rejection, the Times reports.
It is frustrating, but not surprising, that Bush administration politics taints the scientific processes on which federal agencies base important decisions regarding Americans' health. It is the same faulty reasoning federal officials have used to ignore the effects of global warming and to promote burying high-level nuclear waste at Nevada's Yucca Mountain. The Bush administration seems unable to separate important scientific considerations from the administration's political ones.