Barr Laboratories has a “morning-after pill” on the market under the tradename Plan B.
It’s quite safe and 89% effective if taken within 72 hours, but its efficacy decreases sharply with the delay between coition and taking the drug. Right now Plan B available by prescription only (except in California, Washington, New Mexico, Alaska, and Hawaii), which means that many women have trouble getting timely access to it.
Barr Labs asked the FDA to move the drug from prescription-only to over-the-counter status. An FDA scientific advisory panel voted 24-3 to approve the request. The FDA usually takes its panels’ advice seriously. But in this case, the usual “right-to-life” suspects, including a bunch of Congresspeople, objected.
(That the pill works primarily by preventing ovulation rather than implantation, and thus reduces rather than increasing the number of conceptions ending in abortion, doesn’t matter to the right-to-lifers. This is the sort of behavior that supports the view that the real agenda of the political “right-to-life” movement — as opposed to the motivation of individual supporters of that movement — is punishing women for having sex, rather than protecting the fetus.)
Yesterday afternoon, the Friday before a long weekend — the traditional time for putting out news items whose coverage is to be minimized — the FDA told Barr Labs it was putting off the decision for 90 days, asking for “more information.” The FDA insists that the decision was on purely scientific grounds, despte the acknowledged intervention by the FDA Commissioner, about to be nominated by the President to run the Medicare program.
I’m prepared to bet that the FDA will eventually do the right thing. But how many unwanted pregnancies, leading to how many abortions, will result from this obviously political decision?
Once again, we can expect a deafening silence from the libertarians, whose sincerity about personal liberty I keep doing my level best not to doubt.
Update Glen Whitman not only agrees on the specific, but reports that libertarians are starting to exit the Bush camp. I’m delighted to have been proven wrong.