FDA must answer to science, not social politics

The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t want people having sex.

At least that’s the conclusion one arrives at, given the findings of a study released by the Government Accountability Office. The GAO is a nonpartisan branch of the government with the burden of watching other supposedly nonpartisan branches of the government. When investigating the FDA’s ruling on over-the-counter sales of the morning-after pill, the GAO found that “four aspects of (the) review processes were unusual” and that the process was atypical in comparison with other FDA decisions.

According to the FDA’s Web site, it is “a federal science-based law enforcement agency mandated to protect public health and safety.”

The findings have given credence to many detractors of the decision who have claimed that the FDA was giving weight to the opinions of social conservatives who fear that making the pill readily available will lead to an increase in sexually promiscuous activity and the number of sexually transmitted infections in the United States.

In skirting its mandated duties, the FDA has undermined its very existence. Why bother having a science-based regulatory body approving drugs if its rulings are subject to the court of public opinion?

Were the FDA doing its job fully and properly, it would examine nations that have already approved the morning-after pill for over-the-counter sale and take into account both the effect it has had on their societies and measure the use among the population.

In Britain and Australia, where the morning-after pill can be purchased at pharmacies, studies and research tracking the use of the pill have deflated most of the horrors governing the FDA’s acquiescence.

Britain’s Office for National Statistics found that while over-the-counter purchases of the morning-after pill rose significantly over the past year, the number of women using the pill held steady at 7 percent of the nation’s 16- to 49-year-old women.

A study reported on by the Australian Associated Press found that many women who use the over-the-counter pill in that nation are in ongoing relationships. In both nations, the majority of women surveyed provided a common response for why they use the pill: broken condoms.

What this means, of course, is that they were already having regular sex. The freedom of being able to buy an over-the-counter Plan B didn’t trump the freedom of being able to buy condoms over the counter.

The FDA has disapproved the widespread use of a pill that has been found safe for its users and which has been proven socially benign by countries sensible enough to invest in the idea – and all because of the fear, uncertainty and doubt of those who, by its very definition, it should ignore.