Delay of pill another blow to women's health needs

September 06, 2005|By SUSAN REIMER

LAST WEEK, the head of the Food and Drug Administration, ignoring the recommendation of his own panel of scientists, delayed indefinitely approval of the over-the-counter sale of the "morning-after pill."

Lester Crawford said the decision required further study and comment, primarily because he can't figure out how to sell the birth-control pills without prescription to older women while requiring women younger than 16 or 17 to have a doctor's permission.

Never mind that the FDA's panel of experts has ruled the drug safe and effective for women of all ages.

Never mind that we've already figured out how to operate two-tiered, age-based systems for cigarettes and alcohol. What matters here is this: The FDA's indecision is just the latest in a series of insidious assaults on the reproductive health and the privacy rights of women by the Bush administration.

It isn't just about abortion anymore. It isn't about John Roberts or the Supreme Court or the future of Roe v. Wade.

This administration won't be happy until everybody is forced to abstain from sex until marriage. For President Bush and his supporters, contraception is just a polite term for abortion.

The Bush administration discounts the logic that the best way to reduce the number of abortions is to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies, estimated to be 3 million a year in this country.

And the best way to avoid unintended pregnancy is to teach our children about birth control and then make it easily available to them.

Instead, this administration continues to believe that if young people don't have access to birth control, they won't have sex.

The truth is they will just have unprotected sex. Then they and their families - and society - will reap the whirlwind in disease, disaster and heartbreak.

The morning-after pill, also known as Plan B, is designed for use within 72 hours of unprotected sex. Its effect is to prevent ovulation, prevent fertilization or prevent a fertilized egg from anchoring in the uterine wall, which it must do to flourish.

Some argue that the prevention of implantation is tantamount to abortion, although how anyone can know at what point the process is interrupted is beyond me.

The morning-after pill is not the same as RU-486, the pill that can terminate a pregnancy anytime in the first three months.

The morning-after pill is nothing more than a high dose of regular birth control. It is almost 90 percent effective if taken within those early hours after unprotected sex or after the failure of another birth-control method.

But the Bush administration is so opposed to the Plan B pill that it has removed it from the Justice Department's rape-treatment protocols. I can't imagine anything more heartless and cynical than not to at least mention this option to a woman who has just been raped.

This is just the latest indignity inflicted on women by abortion opponents who have now added birth control to their target zone.

There is a growing movement of pharmacists who refuse to fill birth-control prescriptions to which they have moral or religious objections.

There are reports of pharmacists refusing to give the prescriptions back to the women or refusing to tell them where they can go to get them filled.

This makes about as much sense to me as a member of PETA who works at Domino's Pizza refusing to sell a meat-lover's special.

My advice to pharmacists who object to dispensing certain prescriptions would be to find a line of work they find less morally repugnant. You don't see anti-depressant foe Tom Cruise, for instance, going to pharmacy school.

Pharmacists have no right or professional standing to insinuate themselves between a woman and her doctor and the decisions they make about her care.

Add these indignities to the fact that abstinence-only is the only form of sex education that can be taught in public schools using federal money.

And the fact that the Bush administration has refused to increase funding for family-planning services for poor women.

That the administration has rewritten government Web sites to include misleading information about the effectiveness of condoms.

That it has appointed religious conservatives and anti-choice people to key administration positions and to the federal bench.

And that it has withheld funds from international bodies that provide condoms for HIV prevention and birth-control information in developing countries.

If the Bush administration and the arch-conservatives who support his family-life agenda were to have their way, The 40 Year-Old Virgin would not be a silly summer movie.

It would be government policy.

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