Published on Thursday, December 18, 2003 by the Cleveland Plain Dealer
Hard to Swallow Objections to Pill
by Connie Schultz
Women's sex lives made Page One in newspapers around the country yesterday.
Needless to say, this did not bring out the best in conservatives who think we shouldn't even be having sex unless it's for birthin' babies.
Two advisory committees for the Food and Drug Administration voted 23 to 4 Tuesday to allow over-the-counter sales of an emergency contraceptive commonly called the "morning-after pill." The drug, a megadose of the synthetic hormone found in birth-control pills, is also called Plan B, so named as a backup after Plan A - regular contraception - fails or is skipped.
FDA Commissioner Dr. Mark McClellan will make the final decision, but opponents and supporters expect he'll go along with the recommendation within a matter of weeks.
The country's largest gynecologists group, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, says allowing over-the-counter sales could cut in half the 3 million unwanted pregnancies each year.
Abortion opponents, who ought to be uncorking champagne bottles at this news, instead argue the morning-after pill is just another form of abortion. The science says otherwise. The pill delays ovulation and prevents fertilization by sperm cells. It has no effect if a woman is pregnant. If she's pregnant before she pops the little white pill, she'll be pregnant long after she swallows.
It's easy to see abortion opponents' dilemma: If abortions decrease in number, so will the number of patients available for terrorizing outside clinics in the wee morning hours. Career change is always hard. Perhaps abortion foes finally might shift their focus from other women's bodies and lead the drive to adopt all those babies they insist must be born.
Many of the same groups who opposed the birth-control pill told the FDA panel that easier access to the morning-after pill encourages "irresponsible sexual behavior."
Translation: Women will have sex just because they like it.
Let's not get that rumor started. It's bad enough that Dr. David Grimes of Family Health International hailed the FDA decision as "truly enabling and empowering women." I'm sure he was trying to be helpful, but the last thing we need is someone broadcasting to the far right that sex without fear of pregnancy frees up women to do other things, too, like have careers, wage peace and hold elected office. What was he thinking?
Now, there is yet another objection to the morning-after pill. Apparently, there is some confusion over just how smart we are.
You'd think the instructions on how to take the morning-after pill are self-evident. It is, after all, called the morning after. We're not talking after fresh-water snorkeling. It's after s-e-x.
Opponents, though, including Bush's lamentable FDA appointee, Dr. W. David Hager, worry that we women will be unable to wrap our pretty little heads around the instructions for its use.
Hager is the same doctor who refuses to prescribe contraception for his unmarried patients and urges them to pray their way through heinous PMS symptoms.
Granted, many women pray during such times of hormonal hell, but their pleas tend toward, "Please, God, don't let me kill 'em." This prayer is gender neutral. In fact, it is not even human specific, because on our worst days we wonder why God lets even trees live.
Still, if a doctor says the instructions are unclear, I thought it only fair that I try to decipher them for myself. The kind folks at Planned Parenthood of Greater Cleveland gave me a sample packet. To make it as difficult as possible, I imagined being a sexually active teenager who had abstinence-only sex education.
Would I, could I, understand what I was reading?
Instruction No. 1: Take the first tablet as soon as possible within 72 hours of unprotected sex.
Instruction No. 2: Take the second tablet 12 hours after you take the first tablet.
I think we women can handle it.
Besides, we're used to being underestimated.
C 2003 The Plain Dealer