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Is the FDA finally coming around on emergency contraception?

August 2, 2006

Women have been waiting (and waiting) for the FDA to approve over-the-counter status for emergency contraception (EC), commonly referred to as the “morning after pill.” Could Bush’s nominee to head the FDA, Andrew von Eschenbach, be the guy to finally approve the drug? Me thinks not.

In what Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Hillary Clinton (D-NY) called a “delay tactic,” the FDA announced on Monday that it would consider making EC available without a prescription–less than a day before von Eschenbach’s confirmation hearings were set to start. Nice timing.

Both Clinton and Murray have said they will block von Eschenbach’s nomination until the FDA makes a decision once and for all. Their skepticism is certainly understandable; the FDA’s process to approve EC has been marred by the blatant trumping of politics over science. (Even the Government Accountability Office said so.)

The continued delays even prompted Susan Wood, then Director of the Office of Women’s Health, to resign in protest. Never mind that the agency replaced Dr. Wood with a veterinarian and then denied it; that’s a whole other story.

The FDA would later say that they couldn’t possibly approve EC for sale without a prescription because it would make teen girls slutty. In fact, a recently released memo shows that agency officials cited the fear of teen “sex-based cults” being formed around the use of EC. Seriously.

By the way, the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Academy of Pediatrics all say that EC is safe for teens and doesn’t increase sexual activity. But the cult experts clearly know better.

Random question: If the FDA is so concerned about the health and safety of teens, why are they pushing the approval of orlistat–a fat-blocking pill whose side effects include fecal incontinence, gas and oily discharge, and which experts say teens could abuse? Apparently over-the-counter access to a diet pill that makes you shit your pants is preferable to a safe form of contraception.

Jokes aside, women have been waiting for years. The FDA has continued to let politics play a role in the approval process–they’ve even had secret meetings with White House officials over EC! It’s high time that they’re called out in a substantive way. Simply pointing out over and over again that they’ve been remiss (and criminal in my mind) clearly isn’t doing the trick. The FDA owes women an explanation–and our EC. Let’s hear what von Eschenbach has to say about that.

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