Monday, August 14, 2006

Reason may prevail (with compromises)

It looks like reason might finally prevail in the FDA's decision on Plan B -- with a compromise. If things go as planned, women 18 and over will be able to buy Plan B over the counter, and when they need it, rather than after a doctor has been able to fit them into his/her schedule (and has charged said women a hefty fee for those 5 minutes). Yes, the morning after pill might actually become something women (who've had a birth control failure or have been raped) can take the morning after. And, look at that! The intended use is built right into the name: it's Plan B (ie, not one's primary birth control method). And come on, who would really take Plan B every time she had sex, rather than taking the pill? Or using a condom?

Anyway, here's from Ellen Goodman's aptly titled article "Reproductive Rights Victory -- In the Bush Era?!" (Via Feministe)

Emergency contraception is the one swath of common ground in the abortion wars. Plan B can prevent pregnancy and, therefore, abortion. It tells you how bad things are when wrenching approval for contraception out of the Bush administration counts as a smashing victory.

Nevertheless, my champagne flute is still going to be half full. This is a victory with a big asterisk. The price of getting women 18 and older easy access to Plan B has been to exclude those under 18. It's hard to celebrate policies and politics that subject girls to bigger hurdles and solidify the message that motherhood is their punishment for sex.

Let's go back over this torturous history. In 2003, the FDA's scientific advisers overwhelmingly recommended Plan B as safe and effective enough to be sold over the counter without any age restriction. It was described as "safer than aspirin.'' The right wing promptly went ballistic and tried to cast Plan B as an abortion pill. When that failed scientific muster--emergency contraception does nothing if you're pregnant--the same groups got behind the push for escalating age restrictions.

First, a cowed and politicized FDA told the manufacturer to reapply, restricting the pills to 16 and over. Then, more than a year later, one acting FDA commissioner upped the age up to 17. Now the newest acting FDA commissioner, Andrew von Eschenbach, has pushed the age up to 18.

While I suppose we should be grateful that he didn't push it to menopause, why exactly did the would-be commissioner pick 18? Was there some new data? A new study perhaps? The most that any senator could get out of him at the confirmation hearings on his appointment was pretty cryptic: "I believe 18 is appropriate.'' With that, von Eschenbach won the title of "The Believer'' to match his friend and president, "The Decider.''

The arguments in favor of the age restriction are indeed matters of unscientific belief. The morning-after pill does not change the night-before behavior, a favorite argument of those who equate E.C. with promiscuity. Nor does it replace ordinary contraceptives.

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