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America's Women: Still Waiting for the President to Restore Science to Its "Rightful Place"

Written by Kirsten Moore and Dr. Susan Wood for - News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

Today, Wednesday, March 24th, 2010, is "Back Up Your Birth Control Day."  This article includes a link for action at the bottom of the post.

In his inaugural address, President Obama declared his administration would “restore science to its rightful place.”

And on Sunday, after seeing the President agree to an executive order reaffirming restrictive language on abortion coverage in the health care reform bill, America’s women are still waiting.

Reproductive health should not be a political bargaining chip. It is time this administration take real steps to fulfill its commitments to both scientific integrity and reproductive health care. While restoring access to a full range of health care options may take years, one step that can be taken immediately is for the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to reconsider the scientific evidence for making emergency contraception available without prescription for woman of all ages.

It’s already been a year since US District Judge Edward Korman, a Reagan judicial appointee, called out the Bush Administration for its “political and ideological” decision-making regarding emergency contraception and ordered the FDA to review lifting the current age restriction on the availability of over-the-counter emergency contraception.

And still America’s women are waiting. We should not have to wait any longer.

In his decision, Judge Korman concluded that the FDA sacrificed “reasoned agency decision-making” and “departed in significant ways from…normal procedures” under pressure from a Bush White House agenda that put politics ahead of science – an agenda that put politics ahead of safeguarding women’s health.

If the FDA wants to renew its credibility, it must restore scientific integrity to this particular decision. That means acting immediately to remove unwarranted restrictions on over-the-counter access to emergency contraception, including age restrictions and keeping it behind-the-counter.

That’s what the director of the FDA’s Office of New Drugs called for more than five years ago when he wrote, “While over-the-counter access to emergency contraception for adolescents may be controversial from a societal perspective, I cannot think of any age group where the benefit of preventing unplanned pregnancies and abortion is more important and compelling.”

And that’s just why science and not politics should always govern medical decisions – and the science on this issue is overwhelming and beyond question.

More than forty studies have confirmed emergency contraception as safe and effective. The American Medical Association, the World Health Organization and many other public health groups have all recommended broader over-the-counter access to emergency contraception. The FDA’s own advisory panel, a group of scientists and medical professionals, voted 23-4 in favor of switching emergency contraception to non-prescription status without age restrictions, but their advice, and the advice of the FDA professional staff was ignored by FDA political leadership.

It’s time the FDA no longer ignore this advice; it’s time the FDA no longer ignore the preponderance of scientific evidence; it’s time the FDA stop hiding behind procedural delays and do what President Obama said would be done that very first day of his Presidency – restore science to its rightful place.

The Department of Defense has already done so. Just last month, the Department announced it would restore emergency contraception to its formulary, reversing a decision made by a Bush political appointee in 2002 and making it available to the more than 350,000 women serving in the armed forces oversees. No muss, no fuss. Just an independent panel of experts recommending a common sense policy adopted by a common sense bureaucracy.

This is not a question of needing more information. We have all the studies and data we need. Instead, it’s a question of what we need the FDA to do. We need it to protect our health and to leave decisions about using safe and effective contraception to individual women and couples.

When it comes to protecting her health and planning her family, what a woman needs is greater control and more options, not legislative and regulatory barriers and limitations – and that’s particularly true when it comes to emergency contraception.

Despite precautions and the best planning, no birth control is one hundred percent effective. Emergency contraception is a safe, effective back-up method that can prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex or contraceptive failure.

When a woman fears a possible unintended pregnancy, she needs us to make her decision-making easier, not more difficult. And when a woman decides emergency contraception is in her best interest, access to that emergency contraception should be simple, without delay, without age restriction and available over-the-counter.

The FDA is the oldest consumer protection agency in the federal government, and for over 100 years it has focused on protecting our health. This should not be a difficult task. Let the scientific and medical staff at FDA follow the recommendations they made in 2004.

The FDA needs to act now to make this happen.

The FDA needs to act now to restore science to its rightful place.

Take Action: Tell the FDA to end unnecessary age restrictions on emergency contraception.