- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 6, 2000

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) The American Medical Association approved a resolution yesterday asking the government to consider making the "morning-after" contraceptive available over the counter.
The AMA's policy-making House of Delegates passed the recommendation without discussion during a convention in Orlando.
"This is a wonderful decision by the AMA. This is a terrific resolution," said Joan Coombs, senior vice president of Planned Parenthood.
But Cathy Cleaver, a spokesman with the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, said proponents of the morning-after pill are misleading the public with claims that it prevents pregnancies rather than causing abortions.
Miss Coombs estimated that widespread use of the morning-after pill could prevent 1.7 million unplanned pregnancies and 800,000 abortions annually.
The Vatican recently condemned the emergency contraceptive and the nation's largest retailer, Wal-Mart, decided last year not to sell it in any of its 2,400 pharmacies.
Miss Coombs said that if the Food and Drug Administration moves to sell the drug over the counter, "it will make it more acceptable and consumers will demand it. Acceptance will be market-driven," she said.
Taken within three days of sexual intercourse, the morning-after pill prevents ovulation or, if ovulation has already occurred, blocks implantation of a fertilized egg. A report by the AMA's Council on Medical Service suggests that women might not be able to get the pills in time to prevent a pregnancy unless they're made available over the counter.
An AMA committee debated the issue on Sunday and sent its recommendation to the full House of Delegates.
Some of those who testified Sunday said selling the pills over-the-counter would lead to lost opportunities to counsel patients on sexually transmitted diseases.
Though morning-after pills are not as widely opposed as the RU-486 prescription abortion pill approved by the FDA in September, foes consider them a form of abortion since an egg could have been fertilized by the time a woman takes them.
Calling the AMA move "tragic," Miss Cleaver said that if the pill is widely available, teen-age girls would be able to buy it without parental involvement, even in states where parents must be notified when their daughters are having abortions.
"They may not realize that what they're doing is aborting their developing baby," Miss Cleaver said.
But Planned Parenthood does not consider the use of the pill a form of abortion since it does not work if a fertilized egg has already implanted itself in the uterus, the scientific definition of pregnancy.
There are two morning-after pills on the market: Preven and Plan B. They were approved for U.S. use within the past two years.
For the FDA to make the pills available over the counter, a pharmaceutical company must apply to the FDA. The FDA then takes a number of factors into account when making a decision, such as written instructions to patients and the product's safety history, FDA spokeswoman Susan Cruzan said.
"We decide on each application on its own merits, on scientific issues," she said.
Morning-after pills can cause side effects, most commonly nausea and vomiting. Headaches, breast tenderness and changes in menstrual periods also have been reported, but the AMA report suggests serious side effects are rare.
The pills are "considered safe and effective by the medical community as a whole," the report said. It also stated that efforts are needed to improve awareness about their availability.

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