When There Is No Plan B

WHEN THERE IS NO PLAN B….The Washington Post ran a provocative item today from a 42-year-old happily-married mother of two, identified only as “Dana L.,” who became pregnant unexpectedly. She had tried to prevent the pregnancy by taking Plan B emergency contraception, but her doctor refused to write her a prescription.

Ultimately, Dana had an abortion she didn’t want. With some justification, she’s blaming the “conservative politics of the Bush administration.”

My anger propelled me to get to the bottom of the story. It turns out that in December 2003, an FDA advisory committee, whose suggestions the agency usually follows, recommended that the drug be made available over the counter, or without a prescription. Nonetheless, in May 2004, the FDA top brass overruled the advisory panel and gave the thumbs-down to over-the-counter sales of Plan B, requesting more data on how girls younger than 16 could use it safely without a doctor’s supervision.

Apparently, one of the concerns is that ready availability of Plan B could lead teenage girls to have premarital sex. Yet this concern — valid or not — wound up penalizing an over-the-hill married woman for having sex with her husband. Talk about the law of unintended consequences.

Actually, it’s even worse than Dana characterized it.

About two years ago, an FDA advisory panel voted 23 to 4 to approve over-the-counter access to Plan B emergency contraception. One FDA panel member called it the “safest drug that we have seen brought before us.” The scientific evidence was overwhelming that access to Plan B would curtail abortion and unwanted pregnancies. This was a no-brainer — right up until the administration blocked the medication anyway, under pressure from its far-right base.

Ever since, the Bush gang has struggled to come up with a coherent explanation for the decision. Initially, then-Commissioner Lester Crawford cited FDA concerns about selling the drug to younger teens as a reason to keep Plan B off shelves. Then we learned Crawford was lying and the FDA had no such concerns.

A month later, the FDA released an internal memo showing that one high-ranking FDA official was sincerely worried about adolescents forming “sex-based cults centered around the use of Plan B.” Seriously.

The evidence, which may not be relevant to the Bush administration, shows no link between access to Plan B and risky sexual behavior, worse yet “sex-based cults.” How Bush-appointed “scientists” come up with such nonsense is a mystery.

If the administration said, “We’re morally opposed to emergency contraception,” we could at least have a reasonable debate. If the administration said, “We could go for this, but the Dobson crowd would kill us,” we would at least be facing political realities.

Instead, the Bush gang insists on a bizarre approach, in which they claim to base decisions like these on science, but ignore their own experts, hide embarrassing facts, and then lie about it. In the case of Plan B, the result is more unwanted pregnancies and more abortions.

For reasons that are unclear, the GOP’s religious right base seems to think this is a great idea. Maybe more of them should have a chat with “Dana L.”