FDA APPROVES HPV VACCINE….I was more than a little worried that the FDA would cave to conservative political pressure (again), but the agency clearly did the right thing yesterday.

In what officials called a major public health breakthrough, the Food and Drug Administration yesterday approved the first vaccine developed to protect women against cervical cancer.

The vaccine, which works by building immunity against the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus, was found to be effective in preventing almost three-quarters of all cervical cancers.

“This vaccine is a significant advance in the protection of women’s health in that it strikes at the infections that are the root cause of many cervical cancers,” said FDA Acting Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach.

He predicted that the vaccine — the first ever designed specifically to prevent a cancer — will have a “dramatic effect” on the health of women worldwide.

The reason this was even a debate at all in public health circles is that some far-right political activists have criticized the vaccine, regardless of its benefits, because they feared young women might believe they can have sex without getting cervical cancer. The Family Research Council explained, “Giving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful because they may see it as a license to engage in premarital sex.”

Let’s be clear: this vaccine offers the promise of preventing cervical cancer and saving thousands of lives. For some conservatives, however, it comes down to a fairly straightforward position: The vaccine may lead to more pre-marital sex, which ultimately trumps everything else.

To be fair, not every conservative group who weighed in on this debate felt that way. Some organizations backed the vaccine, but oppose making it mandatory. That’s at least open to some debate.

But there was nevertheless a sizable religious right bloc that fought this vaccine every step of the way. Fortunately, the FDA had the good sense to look past their callousness.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.