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Surprising Science

The FDA Ignores Court Order on Emergency Contraception

In March 2009, a federal judge ordered the Food and Drug Administration to reassess the arbitrarily imposed and scientifically unjustified age restrictions on access to emergency contraception (aka “the morning after pill” or Plan B). Nominally, EC is available over the counter, but only to women 17 and older; which means that all women seeking EC must present ID to a pharmacist to prove that they are of legal age. This extra hurdle adds to the stigma and hassle of obtaining EC and may discourage women of all ages from accessing this safe and effective medication.

Of course, the real point of keeping EC behind the counter is to assure the continued relevance of the morons at Pharmacists For Life–pharmacists who refuse to dispense EC because they ignorantly suppose it’s some kind of abortion pill or because they just hate birth control. If EC goes on the shelf with the lube and home pregnancy tests, the Pharmacists for Life miss out on their coveted power trip. 

The manufacturer of Plan B applied to the FDA for over-the-counter status during the Bush years. The FDA’s scientific experts unanimously supported the application, but the political appointees at the agency overruled the scientists. Pharmacists for Life and their ilk had friends in high places.

In last year’s famous decision, New York federal judge Edward R. Korman found that FDA officials decided based on politics rather than science. He wrote:

FDA upper management, including the Commissioner, wrested control over decision-making on Plan B from staff that normally would issue the final decision on an over-the-counter switch application; … and the Commissioner — at the behest of political actors — decided to deny non-prescription access to women 16 and younger before FDA scientific review staff had completed their reviews.

Laura MacLeery of the Center for Reproductive Rights explains that, a year after the ruling, the FDA has made EC available to 17-year-olds but it has apparently done nothing to reassess any of the other restrictions as the court ordered it to do. CRR has the FDA for updates on the reappraisal process, but they’re getting radio silence in return.

Barack Obama promised to restore the integrity of regulatory agencies by putting scientists back in charge. It’s extremely disappointing that the FDA is still dragging its feet on EC.

Because it’s Friday, here’s a fun video on EC and the FDA created by Marc Faletti and the Center for Reproductive Rights. It features scientific truth and cute bunny rabbits:

Tell the FDA to Act on Emergency Contraception from Center for Reproductive Rights on Vimeo.


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