The EC Plan B?
October 17, 2005 - 1:28pm ET
With the FDA's decision on whether to make emergency contraception (EC) available over the counter now stalled indefinitely, women's health organizations that were lobbying for Plan B came up against an infuriating roadblock. Then, last week, a GAO draft report concluded what they'd already suspected: The decision-making process in the Plan B case was highly unusual and made with atypical involvement of senior FDA officials. So where does this leave us?
That was the topic at a Center For American Progress panel discussion this morning featuring Dr. Susan Wood, the former FDA assistant commissioner for women's health who resigned in August over the Plan B delays, and experts from women's health organizations. The answer, by general consensus, was that we need to prepare for a time when Plan B will be available over the counter: to lay the groundwork so that, when its time comes, it will be accessible for every woman—from suburban moms to college students to immigrant workers without IDs.
Along those lines, Naina Dhinga of Advocates For Youth spoke about the group's 10-state emergency contraception project , which focuses on grassroots action and connecting with community-based resources. "The right has done a good job of making the public think EC causes sexual promiscuity," she said. "But umbrellas don't cause rain." Dhinga stressed bringing the debate back to science and stopping the scapegoating of youth:
[Former FDA Commissioner Lester] Crawford's statement that OTC emergency contraception would cause promiscuous behavior is an insult to millions of young women. He shifted the frame of discussion from medicine and science to "How young is too young for sex?" We have to take the debate back to science—the right to progress through science. We can turn it into an issue of respect. We're the side that respects young women and believes in giving them information and access.
Silvia Henriquez, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health , said her focus is on removing the practical barriers to Plan B access. Latinas have the highest uninsured rates in America, and more than a quarter of Latinas haven't seen a doctor in at least a year. They're also more likely than the general population to experience contraceptive failure. When Plan B does become available, these women must know the answers to questions like "How much does it cost? Where can I get it confidentially, when everyone in my neighborhood goes to the same drugstore? Do I need to show ID to get it?" Many low-income and immigrant Latina women don't have ID cards or drivers' licenses, so access to EC must not be limited by lack of ID. There's also linguistic and cultural barriers confronting many immigrant Latina women, which must be removed by training more Spanish-speaking health workers about EC. "We need to have plans for low-income, immigrant women ahead of the fact—not later," Henriquez said. And the focus on EC can't overshadow issues of protection from HIV/AIDS and STDs.
Basically, the panelists said, it's time to do the best we can with a bad situation and get some good out of the emergency contraception mess. "EC is a terrible precedent for how we move forward in science, and we have to do better. Women's health is so much more than reproductive health. We have to keep that in mind," Wood said. "But reproductive health gets all the controversy."
Help us spread the word about these important stories...
Email to a friend
Views expressed on this page are those of the authors and not necessarily those of Campaign for America's Future or Institute for America's Future