Women's health advocates have long alleged that the White House has had a hand in the endless delays at the Food and Drug Administration over making Plan B available over-the-counter. Friday, Newsday reported new evidence that they're right.
Just to recap: In December 2003, a joint hearing of the FDA's Nonprescription Drugs and Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committees voted 23 to 4 to recommend that the agency make emergency contraception available over the counter. Yet, Plan B still isn't available over the counter, so the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights is suing the FDA to make it so.
According to Newsday, Thursday "Bonnie Jones, an attorney for the reproductive rights group, told federal Magistrate Viktor Pohorelsky: 'It has come to our attention that Mark McClellan at some point had a meeting with someone from the White House about Plan B.'" Mark McClellan is the former FDA commissioner, and he's scheduled to testify in the lawsuit on June 13th.
Newsday continues: "A copy of McClellan's appointment calendar while he was FDA commissioner contains an April 21, 2003 entry: 'Conference call w/Jay Lefkowitz re: Plan B submis.' The entry appears to refer to an application for non-prescription sales submitted to the FDA a few days earlier by Women's Capital Corp., which then owned Plan B. Barr Laboratories of Pomona, N.Y., later bought the company. Lefkowitz, popular with conservative groups, is the former deputy assistant to the president for domestic policy and now serves as special envoy on human rights in North Korea."
Here's how reproductive rights advocates reacted to the paper trail connecting the FDA's Plan B policy to the White House: "The revelation today of a highly unusual consultation between the FDA and White House raises yet another red flag for those of us who care about science and provide health care services," Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards said in a statement. "The delay in making emergency contraception more available to women is inexcusable. Unfortunately, suspicious fingerprints have been found all over what should have been a purely scientific evaluation of a safe, effective back-up birth control option."
Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, had this to add in a statement: "Today's revelations are further proof that the Bush administration is playing politics with women's health. Even though the FDA's own advisory panel overwhelmingly voted to approve over-the-counter status for Plan B, FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan met with White House staff about this drug. This is highly unusual behavior; in fact it almost never happens. If these latest reports are true, they show that Bush political appointees are pandering to their far-right base by blocking women's access to this safe, effective birth control method."
From global warming to abstinence-only sex-education, there have been so many scandals about the Bush adminstration's willful perversion of science with ideology that it's hard to be hopeful that the simple revelation that the White House meddled will lead to any change. Yet, in this case, a court of law's involved. Broadsheet will keep you posted.