Science bests ideology in morning-after pill dispute

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A federal court ruled on Monday that the Food and Drug Administration must make Plan B emergency contraception (a/k/a the "morning-after pill") available over-the-counter to 17 year olds within 30 days, and must reconsider making the drug available without a prescription to females of all ages. Currently, Plan B is available without a prescription to women 18 and over.

Nancy Mosher, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, applauded the court's decision, noting: "Research shows that increased access to contraception does not increase or encourage sexual activity among teens."

Even more important than the expansion of access is what the decision says about the conduct of the FDA under the Bush Administration - and what it suggests about the future of that agency, and others, now that Barack Obama is president. In the early 2000s, when the FDA debated emergency-contaception access, many observers suggested that right-wing ideology and politics were exerting too much influence over what should have been a science-based decision. Now, those critics have the law on their side.

"These political considerations, delays and implausible justifications for decision-making are not the only evidence of a lack of good faith and reasoned agency decision-making," New York U.S. District Judge Edward R. Korman wrote in the decision. "Indeed, the record is clear that the FDA's course of conduct regarding Plan B departed in significant ways from the agency's normal procedures regarding similar applications to switch a drug from prescription to non-prescription use."

"We're so encouraged by this decision, which is a victory for science and medicine over politics," says Shenna Bellows, executive director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union, which advocates for women's reproductive rights. "This is a welcome change from the recent past, when "the Bush Administration's FDA subjugated women's health to political and religious beliefs and ideology."

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