(CNSNews.com) - Pro-abortion groups angrily complain that the Bush administration has reneged on its promise to issue a decision on non-prescription availability of emergency contraception (the morning-after pill) by September 1.
But pro-lifers who oppose emergency contraception said over-the-counter sales will put women's and young teens' health at risk.
On Friday, the Food and Drug Administration once again postponed a decision on over-the-counter sales because it can't decide how to ensure that the drug is available over-the-counter for women over age 17 while remaining prescription-only for those under the age of 17.
FDA Commissioner Lester M. Crawford said enforcing an age limit for nonprescription sales is "unprecedented" for his agency, and he called for 60 days of public comment on whether and how pharmacies might enforce an age limit for nonprescription sales.
Right now, seven states allow over-the-counter sales of Plan B, but Barr Labs -- the company that makes Plan B -- wants the FDA to allow nationwide sales without a prescription for women and girls of all ages.
'Breach of faith'
The FDA's delay in announcing a decision on Plan B drew a sharp response from Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), who called it a "breach of faith."
They also called for congressional hearings into the FDA's latest delay.
Sens. Murray and Clinton agreed to lift their hold on Lester Crawford's nomination as FDA commissioner last month, after the Bush administration promised the Senate that the FDA would issue a decision on Plan B by Sept. 1.
Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, accused the Bush administration of "breaking its promise" to the U.S. Senate and the American people.
"FDA's delay flies in the face of an American majority that believes more should be done to reduce unintended pregnancies and the need for abortion," Kennan said in a statement issued Friday.
"Scientists, doctors, and Americans across the political spectrum support giving women, especially survivors of sexual assault, better access to the morning-after pill to prevent unintended pregnancies."
(As the FDA commissioner noted, the morning after pill is available right now to any woman with a doctor's prescription.)
National Day of Action
National Organization for Women President Kim Gandy urged women's health advocates to join in a national day of action on Tuesday, Aug. 30, to protest the FDA's non-decision on emergency contraception.
Gandy called the FDA's Friday announcement "insulting on so many levels that I hardly know where to begin."
She also accused FDA Commissioner Crawford of misleading the Senate just to win confirmation.
Gandy dismissed the FDA's call for more public comment as a "lame excuse," and she said it is "ridiculous" for the FDA to suggest that women under the age of 17 won't be able to understand the directions for taking Plan B, unless they have a doctor to guide them.
"My 12-year-old daughter could follow those directions easily," Gandy said. "And even if the directions weren't followed properly, EC is extremely safe -- so there would be no adverse health consequences to justify extreme measures to keep it out of the hands of young women," she added.
"So the FDA's 'reason' is merely an excuse to deny young women access to the means to prevent pregnancy, and at a time in their lives when an unwanted pregnancy would wreak havoc on their young lives and limit their future. And if a young woman can't understand such a simple label, do we honestly think that the alternative should be motherhood?" Gandy asked.
She also dismissed the FDA commissioner's comment that the FDA can't figure out how to enforce prescription sales of Plan B for girls under 17: "C'mon -- as if they haven't seen drugstores deal with alcohol, cigarettes, and the nicotine patch for years," Gandy commented.
"This is just another in a long line of decisions that make women's health secondary to right-wing politics. This administration is determined to turn the FDA into an arm of the Republican Party -- carrying out the fondest desires of Bush allies who oppose women's use of contraception," Gandy concluded.
Concerned Women for America (CWA), which testified against over-the-counter sales of emergency contraception, noted that the FDA denied nonprescription sales of Plan B in 2004 because the drug manufacturer could not prove that Plan B was safe for adolescents.
"Studies show that easy access to the morning-after pill does not decrease abortions or pregnancies, but it does increase sexually transmitted disease rates," said Wendy Wright, senior policy director for CWA.
"What's more, experts have found that men will frequently buy it, and some slip it to unsuspecting women. An age restriction would not hinder men who would buy the drug and give it to underage girls."
"It is naive to assume any over-the-counter scheme for the morning-after pill would be effective," Wright said. "A 17-year-old could buy it for a 13-year-old girl. Or worse yet, a pedophile could purchase this drug for his victims.
"Making the morning-after pill over-the-counter would only benefit those that profit from its increased sales -- but the real price will be paid by women and girls who would suffer the health consequences," Wright said.
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