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'Morning-after' pill approval still coitus interruptus

Kara Karlson
By Kara Karlson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
August 30, 2005
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After two years of delays, and despite monumental support given by two Federal Drug Administration advisory committees and staff, the emergency contraceptive commonly known as the "morning-after pill" still has at least another 60 days to wait for a yea or nay from the FDA.

The FDA cites three excuses for this failure to approve over-the-counter status, claiming that the contraceptive is not proven safe for women under 16, doubting the ability of women 16 and under to "interpret" the directions, and worrying about age-restriction enforceability.

The only reason age entered into this debate is because the FDA commissioner, Lester Crawford, ruled against his own advisory committees' approval, and insisted Barr Pharmaceutical, the company that makes Plan B, must prove it is safe for women under 16.

Plan B was approved by the FDA, and is currently available to women of all ages, with a doctor's prescription.

If the FDA was truly concerned with women's safety, and not whatever sociopolitical motivations it is currently acting upon, Plan B should never have been given FDA approval for all age groups if it truly is unsafe.

As the Campus Health Pharmacy currently fills about 28 to 30 Plan B prescriptions per week, the Arizona Daily Wildcat would definitely have broken a story about women dying in droves and having massive complications due to this terrible pill.

Since this has not happened, prescriptions continue to be filled, and five states - including two of our neighbors, California and New Mexico - have limited over-the-counter distribution. One could venture to say that the pill is safe, even for women under the FDA's random age restriction of 17.

The second argument is that women under 17 may lack the skills to "interpret" the directions.

It's amazing what a 15-year-old can be trained to do, like drive a vehicle, an activity currently sanctioned by our government. This same being surely has the ability to read instructions, no interpreting necessary.

If scientists could teach a chimp to read, I am positive that even she could most likely open the box, read the directions and take her pills. This isn't a Supreme Court case - it's directions like those you would see on an aspirin bottle.

In fact, Plan B's Web site has two simple directions: "Take the first tablet as soon as possible within three days (72 hours) of unprotected sex," and then "Take the second tablet 12 hours after the first." Mind-boggling and complicated, indeed.

Finally, the argument that the FDA-approved pill will be sold to minors because of age-restriction enforcement problems is similarly ridiculous.

Carding is commonplace in society: alcohol, cigarettes, lottery tickets, spray paint, pornography, movie tickets - the list goes on. Plan B would just be one more item on a laundry list of "age-restricted products" that a Walgreens clerk would be trained to card for.

If Plan B were finally made available over the counter, it would make women on campus better able to respond quickly in case of an accident, such as a broken condom.

Campus Health pharmacy fills more prescriptions of Plan B after the weekends, and because the pills work better taken sooner rather than later, the accessibility it would offer with over-the-counter status would help women both on and off campus.

Donna Altschul, an on-call pharmacist with Campus Health Pharmacy, said that making Plan B over-the-counter would increase accessibility but may raise the cost.

"We sell a lot of it by prescription.In fact, I sold a lot of it today," Altschul said. These women could go to a 24-hour Osco or Wal-Mart and grab a pack instead of having to make an appointment, wait for their doctors' offices to open, obtain a prescription, and then pick up the contraceptive.

Not being forced to go to the doctor to receive rather benign and desperately important help is especially beneficial for cash-strapped college students, most of whom have to pay at the very least $10 to see the doctor, and then whatever it costs to get the actual contraceptive. At Campus Health's pharmacy, Plan B currently sells for $25.

While the FDA may be dragging its feet (though most of the agency is pushing toward approval), the UA has taken steps to help women in the event of an accident.

Female students can receive a prescription after-hours and on weekends and holidays by calling Campus Health's after-hours number.

Hopefully, Commissioner Crawford will stop playing moral watchdog over the lives of women, and let them make responsible decisions for themselves.

Essentially, while many abortion opponents are also against approving Plan B for over the counter status, the slogan "Get your laws out of my body" could not be more applicable.

Kara Karlson is a journalism senior who thinks that options help people. She can be reached at

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