Acting Surgeon General Galson Fumbled Plan B

Vivien Labaton

President Bush elevates political puppetry above public health with his appointment of Steven Galson to Acting Surgeon General.

This piece is co-authored by Simon Heller of the Center for Reproductive Rights. 

The appointment of Steven Galson as Acting Surgeon General is both a poor choice for the country and a perfect choice for a presidential administration bent on subordinating public health to its right-wing political ideology.

At the Food and Drug Administration, Galson ran the agency's drug review and approval department. During his tenure, he managed to damage the agency's reputation worldwide by his mishandling of the emergency contraceptive drug Plan B, commonly known as the "morning-after pill." Over the course of three years, the FDA refused to make Plan B available without a prescription to women of all ages despite its own scientists' recommendations. The Center for Reproductive Rights filed suit against the agency on behalf of a group of reproductive health providers, feminist activists and a group dedicated to improving Latinas' reproductive health, asking the court to order the FDA adhere to the science and its own rules and make Plan B over-the-counter. Last year, the agency finally agreed to make the drug available without a prescription, but only to women over 18-again, despite scientists' recommendations.

Evidence we gathered in our case shows that Galson was pressured by political appointees in the agency to reject over-the-counter status for Plan B, and that he caved in to that pressure by single-handedly blocking its approval-even though all of the agency employees who typically would make that decision recommended over-the-counter status. Equally important, he denied under oath that his role in the Plan B process was influenced by political considerations. Other testimony, however, flatly contradicts this, and instead paints a picture of a process hijacked by White House political operatives in which Galson played the part of a willing accomplice. He did this first, by sacrificing his scientific integrity in order to preserve his influence at the agency, and then second, by helping cover up the malfeasance of political appointees at the agency.

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It's easy to see why President Bush would want just such a person as his Acting Surgeon General. As the leading government voice on public health issues, the Surgeon General has in the past exercised significant independence from the ideology of the White House-witness Surgeon General C. Everett Koop's rejection of "post-abortion syndrome" during the anti-choice Reagan administration. But as the recent testimony of former Surgeon General Richard Carmona shows, the administration of George W. Bush is intent on corrupting every agency of the executive branch with its mindless medieval worldview. Mr. Galson will fit right in.

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