- The Washington Times - Monday, December 15, 2003

Two federal advisory committees are scheduled today to hear comments on making “emergency” birth-control pills available in groceries and other stores.

Currently, emergency contraception (EC) is available by prescription only.

The birth-control products are sometimes called morning-after pills because they are to be used within 72 hours after unprotected sexual intercourse to prevent or interrupt an early pregnancy.

Last week, 44 members of Congress sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory committees on nonprescription drugs and reproductive-health drugs, urging them to reject a petition to grant over-the-counter status to Plan B, one of two FDA-approved emergency-contraception products.

Emergency contraception should not be “as accessible to our nation’s teenage daughters as aspirin or hair spray,” said the Dec. 8 letter signed by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, and 43 other House Republicans.

There are “serious implications” of allowing children access to “a powerful drug without the knowledge of their parents or family physician,” the members of Congress said. They further asked the FDA advisers to change Plan B’s package insert to state clearly that it can “adversely affect” a human embryo.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, among others, reject EC because it can interrupt an early pregnancy and thus act as an abortifacient.

EC is not thought to affect established pregnancies.

Wendy Wright of Concerned Women for America, who is scheduled to testify today before the FDA advisory committees, said not enough research has been done on the long-term use of EC.

Moreover, she said, “It makes no sense at all for a higher dose of a drug to be available over the counter when a low dose of it requires physician oversight and prescription.”

EC supporters contend that if Plan B can be sold in drugstores, groceries and other stores, it could reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and abortions by half.

“Emergency contraception is safe and effective and is the best way to prevent unintended pregnancy in cases of contraceptive failure,” said Dr. Vanessa Cullins, vice president for medical affairs for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, who also is slated to address the FDA panels.

Dozens of medical and public-health groups, including the American Medical Association and American Public Health Association, support expanding access to EC, according to the Reproductive Health Technologies Project, which promotes EC use.

Plan B currently is sold to adults through Web sites, primary care physicians and campus and community-health clinics. Drug maker Barr Laboratories announced plans to acquire Plan B from the Women’s Capital Corporation in October.

Five states — Washington, California, Alaska, Hawaii and New Mexico — allow women to buy EC from pharmacists without a prescription.

In 2002, the Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI) estimated that widespread availability of EC could prevent 1.7 million unintended pregnancies and 800,000 abortions each year in the United States.

Miss Wright disputed the AGI study as “a propaganda tool” to promote EC.

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