FDA overruled, undermined by politicians

After an intensive discussion and careful deliberation, the pill often nicknamed “morning-after pill” or “plan B” was to become openly available over the counter at drug stores. But now its release has been delayed once again even after the Federal Drug Administration had officially declared it safe, undermining the reason for which the organization was founded.

It is obvious that the numerous delays, including the newest one, are not caused by scientifically founded concerns for the safety of women who would use the drug, but by roadblocks put into place by those that have ideological qualms about its use.

This quickly becomes evident as irrational when it is considered that the morning-after pill is an emergency contraceptive that prevents sperm from fertilizing the female egg. Contrary to chemical abortion techniques, such as the oft-quoted RU-486 pill that aborts a recently fertilized egg, no newly formed fetus is harmed.

The morning-after pill therefore has nothing to do with abortion, yet many politicians have voiced concerns over the ethicality of such a drug and attempted to pressure the FDA into halting its plans to release the drug, a method that has apparently worked.

One FDA official resigned in protest on Wednesday. According to the New York Times, FDA assistant commissioner Susan F. Wood said, “I feel very strongly that this shouldn’t be about abortion politics.” Wood also wrote in an e-mail to fellow staff members: “When scientific and clinical evidence, fully evaluated and recommended for approval by the professional staff here, has been overruled,” she could no longer justify working for the FDA.

FDA officials had halted plans to release the drug because they claimed they could not ensure that it was only sold to women above the age of 17.

It is questionable why drug store clerks could not simply ask for a driver’s license or other photo ID as proof that the woman asking for the drug is indeed above the imposed age limit. Similar retail requirements are already in place for various products, including the millions of products containing tobacco and alcohol sold every day. It seems more likely that the FDA simply bowed to political pressure and used this line of reasoning as a convenient excuse to do so.

This, however, is a very troubling prospect. The FDA was founded to scientifically evaluate the safety of drugs, cosmetics and biological techniques that have the potential to harm humans. Now that politicians abuse their clout to pressure what was intended to be an objective organization, the FDA’s stated purpose may no longer be meaningful.