Monday, June 05, 2006

If no Plan B then go to Plan A

What is a 42-year-old, happily married woman with two children to do to prevent a possible pregnancy after intimate relations with her husband? Emergency contraception (a.k.a. Plan B) is a relatively safe option that should be available but is becoming more and more difficult for women to obtain because of the politics of the so-call right-to-life movement.

In Sunday’s Washington Post, a woman using the name of Dana L. (out of concern for her family’s privacy) wrote of her attempts to obtain Plan B within the 72-hour period of sexual intercourse with her husband. Her age and medications she needed were health factors making pregnancy risky. She and her husband were involved with their children and considered their family complete.

Because Plan B is not available over the counter and because of the obstacles she faced in getting a prescription over the weekend, the 72-hour period the drug would have been effective lapsed. Unfortunately, she became pregnant. Without the emergency contraception she needed she was forced to have an abortion.

She explains the politics of the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) action on Plan B to block its availability over the counter:

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.

She then pointed out the hurdles involved in trying to get a prescription on a weekend:

Meanwhile, I hadn't even been able to get Plan B with a prescription
that Friday, because in Virginia, health-care practitioners apparently are
allowed to refuse to prescribe any drug that goes against their beliefs.
Although I had heard of pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions for birth
control on religious grounds, I was dumbfounded to find that doctors could do
the same thing.

Moreover, they aren't even required to tell the patient why they
won't provide the drug. Nor do they have to provide a list of alternative
sources. I had asked the ob-gyn's receptionist if politics was the reason the
doctor wouldn't prescribe Plan B for me. She refused to answer or offer any
reason, no matter how much I pressed her. By the time I got on the phone with my
internist's office and found that he would not fill a Plan B prescription
either, I figured it was a waste of time to fight with the office staff. To this
day, I don't know why my doctors wouldn't prescribe Plan B -- whether it was
because of moral opposition to contraception or out of fear of political
protesters or just because they preferred not to go there.

Steve Benen at Political Animal writes that one FDA advisory panel member called it the safest drug brought before them. Evidence showed Plan B would curtail abortions and unwanted pregnancies. However, the “right-to-life” leadership has determined emergency contraception is the equivalent of abortion and must be restricted. The appointees to the FDA of the Bush administration reflect this hard core position.

It is a sad day when a woman in the United States in the 21st century cannot easily and quickly obtain emergency contraception.

No comments: