For years, reproductive rights advocates
have argued that when it came to policy decisions around women’s health,
the Bush administration was driven by politics, not science. Well, just last week,
in complete vindication of those arguments,
a federal court found that the Food and
Drug Administration, under President Bush’s leadership,
had been improperly influenced by "political considerations" in
its decision-making around Plan B,
the drug commonly known as the morning-after-pill. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District
of New York ordered the FDA to reconsider its 2006 decision to allow
only women 18 and older to get Plan B without a prescription.
The court also ordered the agency to make Plan B available without a
prescription to 17 year olds within in 30 days.
The judge in the case said that the
FDA had over the years unjustifiably delayed issuing a determination
on whether the contraceptive should be sold over-the-counter, and when
the agency was finally pushed into a political corner, it approved Plan
B only for 18 and older, despite their own scientists having found it
safe and effective for all age groups. With this ruling we have succeeded
in expanding access and hope to ultimately make it fully available to
But emergency contraception is still
difficult to access for many groups of women, including the more than
200,000 women serving in the Armed Services. It’s excluded from the
list of what military facilities, including the primary stores where
families shop, are required to stock. That can be particularly
challenging for women and families who are based overseas and rely solely
on those facilities to buy over-the-counter drugs. More than 160,500
American female soldiers have served in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Middle
East since the war began in 2003. According to a 2007 Department of Defense
Report, there were 2,688
reported sexual assaults involving military personnel in 2007. Why
would the government limit these women’s ability to prevent unintended
This is undoubtedly another example
of the Bush administration playing politics with women’s health.
In 2002, the Department of Defense, relying on its technical experts,
initially approved emergency contraception for its Basic Care Formulary,
which would have required that it be stocked at all military treatment
facilities. That approval was quickly rescinded when it reached the
radar of political appointees. Uncannily, it sounds like what was going
on at the FDA: scientists support access to emergency contraception
and political pressure shuts it down. Now, it’s available only at
those military health facilities that decide to make it available. In
the meantime, the lack of the contraceptive doubly victimizes servicewomen
who experience sexual assault – some of whom suffer from trauma serious
enough to impair their military careers.
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In the last Congress, then-Senator
Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Michael Michaud (D-Maine), introduced
legislation that would have required full access to emergency contraception
for servicewomen at all U.S. military health care facilities around
the world. We no longer, however, need to wait for Congressional
action to right this wrong. President Obama has promised to restore
scientific integrity to government actions in his administration.
Join me in calling on President Obama
to direct Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defense, to make Plan B available
to our servicewomen. Click
here to send President Obama a message.