- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 15, 2004

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The government is postponing its decision on whether to reject over-the-counter sales of a morning-after birth-control pill.

A ruling had been expected this week on the pills, called Plan B, made by Barr Laboratories. The company announced late Friday that the Food and Drug Administration is delaying action for 90 days on Barr’s request to sell Plan B without prescriptions to give time to seek more detailed information on use of the pills by 16- and 17-year-olds.

The agency needs more time to evaluate that information, Barr spokeswoman Carol Cox said. “It’s not that unusual that they’d request more time,” she said.

In December, an FDA advisory committee endorsed prescriptionless sale of the pills. The committee said they are safe and called them an important way to reduce the number of abortions.

Taken within 72 hours of intercourse, the pills cut the chances of getting pregnant by up to 89 percent. It can be hard to find a doctor to write a prescription in time, however, especially on weekends and holidays.

While the advisory panel supported the pill, opponents complained that it could lead to more unsafe sex and an increase in sexually transmitted disease, especially in teens.

“Without medical advice, use of Plan B by teens will be disastrous,” Dr. John Bruchalski of the Catholic Medical Association told the advisory committee. Dr. Bruchalski could not be reached immediately for comment on the decision to delay action.

A coalition of conservative lawmakers, led by Rep. Dave Weldon, Florida Republican, is urging the Bush administration to reject the approval. They argue it is inconsistent for the administration to advocate sexual abstinence and then approve the morning-after pill. Mr. Weldon, who is also a physician, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the FDA decision.

The announcement of a delay in the decision raised suspicion from contraception-advocacy groups that FDA would ignore its scientific advisers because of political pressure.

“This delay is somewhat hypocritical,” said Dr. Jeffrey Waldman of Planned Parenthood in California.

Kirsten Moore, president of the Reproductive Health Technologies Project, said in a statement: “We remain hopeful that the FDA will heed the advice of its experts. But this latest announcement raises deep concern that political pressure is being brought to bear on the FDA — and that women’s well-being will suffer as a result.”

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