Over The Counter Plan B Indefinitely Postponed – FDA Director of Women's Health Resigns

This little bit of news is met by me with both approval and sadness. It seems that FDA official, Susan Wood, director of FDA’s Office of Women’s Health has resigned after the FDA decision on Friday to postpone the decision to make Plan B an over the counter drug indefinitely.

CNN reports that in her letter of resignation, Wood wrote;

“I can no longer serve as staff when scientific and clinical evidence, fully evaluated and recommended for approval by the professional staff here, has been overruled,” wrote Wood, who also was assistant commissioner for women’s health. “The recent decision announced by the Commissioner about emergency contraception, which continues to limit women’s access to a product that would reduce unintended pregnancies and reduce abortions, is contrary to my core commitment to improving and advancing women’s health.”

So for obvious reasons, it’s very sad to see an ally that potentially had pull within the lions den deciding to give up the fight, but on the other hand I can understand and appreciate her frustration in the face of continuously mounting opposition within the FDA via ultra-conservatives and fundamentalists being appointed to key roles.

Commissioner Lester tried to soft-pedal his objections, in an obvious attempt at pacifying people for the ignorant decision;

the agency considered over-the-counter sales to women 17 and older fine, but that younger teens would still need a prescription — and that the agency was unable to decide how pharmacies could enforce an age limit, or even if it was legal to have such dual sales.

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15 Responses to Over The Counter Plan B Indefinitely Postponed – FDA Director of Women's Health Resigns

  1. 1
    Robert says:

    You have two problems here.

    Your first problem is the standard, nearly universal, left-wing fundamental misperception of what government is. Government is power. It isn’t a fuzzy therapy session run by friendly kittens designed to bring happiness to the masses. It’s a machine for killing, and for getting people to do things by threatening to kill them if they don’t.

    As it happens, we sometimes need machines for killing. So that’s all good. But when you take the machine for killing and try to turn it into the kitten-themed therapy session, you end up with a lot of maimed kittens and therapy sessions that end in blood. So being shocked at some decision being made in an arena where the government is fundamentally incompetent to make decisions is like being shocked at watching a Jerry Bruckheimer show and plowing into plot point after plot point whose arrival could have been predicted ten years in advance by a rock that lives on the back side of Pluto.

    Your second problem is that you want this freakshow amalgam of slaughterhouse and group therapy to be completely apolitical and empirical and scientific, so long as its apoliticality, scientism and empiricism happen to exactly match your own personal preferences, prejudices and predispositions. (OK, first row, dry off. Here’s a handkerchief.)

    There is surprise when occasionally the people who have made it their life’s work to get control of the machine for killing, turn out not to share your ideals and values. It turns out that the levers of the machine don’t read “use only as approved by Kim” – they respond to whoever has control. And so the people running them do things in their own way – without much regard for what you view as empirical and obviously correct.

    The machine for killing runs on principles – but those principles don’t reflect outcome-based values. Instead, they are formal principles about operation – the person who wins the election gets to set the policy, for example, whether that policy will be buttressed by scientific empiricism, religious mysticism, or blind chance.

    So you basically have two choices. You can either

    (a) make sure that you always have control over the levers of power, so that your preferences will always win out; this is difficult, even for people who don’t have to outmaneuver Karl Rove, Prince of Darkness

    or

    (b) try to vest power over civil matters as far away from the killing machine as possible, so that even when you’re not in control of the machine, the aspects of your life that don’t have to involve killing people are not controlled by the machine.

    The downside of (a) is that nobody gets to win all the time, and periodically you’re just going to have to put up with people who could give two shits what you think of the birth control rules. The downside of (b) is that when you DO have control of the killing machine, you don’t get to go around making rules to control other people’s behavior.

    In other words, all you have to do in order to be able to buy any damn kind of birth control pill you want, is to release the idea that the government should be controlling that process in the first place. Of course, that does mean accepting that people are going to bad things, and might get away with it more often than they do now, and accepting that people are going to make dumb decisions, and might pay a high price for that. Nothing is free; everything is a tradeoff.

  2. 2
    Samantha Vimes says:

    Robert, while government has always had a penchant for control of killing (but not absolute control, because sometimes people get away with murder, literally), that does not equate to incompetence at all times in other fields. How is it that for 75 years, the government has successfully handled social security monies? Have you heard little old ladies state that when they went to pick up their checks, their kittens were killed?

    What about liscensing of doctors? Do you really want there to be no way of distinguishing between a surgeon who has been through an accredited medical school and a chakra healer? (admittedly some people will prefer the latter tot he former, but at least they are making their own choice based on knowlege of credentialling procedures.

    I like being able to read nutritional information on food labels– a government requirement that doesn’t kill kittens, but ensures I know that frozen mango has more vitamin C than frozen corn.

    Should we let the kitten killing government lisence drivers? Hell, no, in your opinion, apparently it is safer to have no way to stop a person who is too elderly, sick, uninformed, or habitually drunk from driving.

    Oh, and levee building, city planning, disaster evacuation– I guess we don’t need kitten killing governments for those, either. Because, if you were in New Orleans trapped in an attic, we would be spared your polemic.

    I prefer to live in civilization rather than anarchy, and that means dealing with governments– which should operate according to solid, APOLITICAL guidelines on most issues. Safety of medicines, drivers, food additives, etc, should be fact based, not ideology based. That’s not too much to ask for.

  3. Robert,

    There are another potential functions of government besides killing people. Government (in a democracy anyway) is collective action, plain and simple. That collective action may be for the purpose of protection (as you call… um, “killing”. But I would include the handling of civil legal matters as a type of protection that does not involve killing or the threat thereof), it may be for building something large (say, a highway or rail system), or it may be a source of collective information (in ways that prove cost effective – it would be hard to argue that a profit motive would make “information production” more efficient because the supply curve for it is completely flat ).

    The FDA is an example of information providing, as are public schools and research grants. A libertarian perspective (which is what I’m calling your argument) usually makes the classical economics assumption that information is already perfectly free, which it is not. If we want our “collective action” to promote a society of equals, we need to provide information that all people need (e.g. which drugs not to buy so you don’t die from them).
    When the FDA makes harmful substances illegal, it borders on the “protection” role of government. It’s arguable that this is over-protection, and that perhaps we consumers only need a label on our drugs that says “FDA approved”. But in a practical sense, we know that this would cause a lot of pointless deaths and injuries because there will always be people who don’t know what the FDA even is, etc. Making it illegal provides protection for the 10% of people who are the densest among us. (Actually, I say that in jest – I think it would be quite hard for me, even as a fairly well-informed person, to navigate a world where there might be something quite dangerous sitting on the shelf next to the Tylenol!)

    The FDA is understood by most of the voting public as a scientific organization, plus one that is intent on promoting the public good (and “public” includes women, IMHO).
    It may be “the way things are” that it doesn’t always work out that way, but “the way things are” can change if/when most of the voting public becomes aware of what’s going on.

    Wait – what was the topic? Oh yeah…
    I happen to think that Susan Wood’s actions and words are a very powerful statement that many people will respond to (assuming this is publicized – that’s where my cynicism might come in). I’m willing to bet that a large majority of people is perfectly fine with emergency contraception over the counter. Plus, it’s legal in other countries and they seem to be doing OK.

    The people in power may get to call the shots, but in a democracy they also are held accountable.

  4. 4
    Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I’ll come in as a less aggressive libertarian. The government does have tremendous power–you can hope it will be used in directions you approve of or at least don’t absolutely hate, but there’s no guarantee.

    I don’t think people who support the government having power over large areas of most people’s lives really think about the risks of having the power so centralized. Not only does it make a very tempting target for people who like power, but if it goes in a direction you don’t like, the results are extremely pervasive.

    Samantha, I’m not denying that government can do useful things–but how do you intend to enforce government work being mostly based on “apolitical” scientific information?

    P.S. I love the authomatic preview.

  5. 5
    RonF says:

    I think you misunderstand Robert’s comments on killing. Certainly government has many roles and functions, such as building roads (and levees …), providing for the common defense, making and enforcing the law, etc. Few of these involve killing.But in order to be able to do these things, the government has to use coercion. Power. The threat of fines, imprisonment, and even (in some cases) death. That’s how the government is able to get the taxes from us that it needs to perform it’s functions, and that’s how it enforces the law. How many people would pay taxes, parking tickets, etc. if the government didn’t back up it’s enforcement efforts with the threat of financial and ultimately physical force?

  6. 6
    RonF says:

    … and that the agency was unable to decide how pharmacies could enforce an age limit, or even if it was legal to have such dual sales.This seems somewhat absurd. If Osco Drug can figure out how to limit the sale of wine and beer to people over 21, why can’t it figure out how to limit the sale of this drug to people over the age of 18? And why wouldn’t it be legal?

  7. 7
    Josh Jasper says:

    In terms of the resignation, I think it was about all she could do, and it was a very public form of protest. It puts the FDA in a position where they ahve to fill that slot, and the person whith whom they fill it is going to asked some rather pointed questions.

    Susan Wood made the best decision she could. She’s put a spotlight on Bush’s war against birth control. This si a good thing. The American public already has one of the lowest opinions of Bush it’s had ever. If people who oppose Bush are smart, we can use this to further turn the public against him

  8. 8
    alsis39 says:

    I don’t think people who support the government having power over large areas of most people’s lives really think about the risks of having the power so centralized. Not only does it make a very tempting target for people who like power, but if it goes in a direction you don’t like, the results are extremely pervasive.

    Which never happens when that power is consolidated in the hands of three or four giant multinationals. [snort.] Whatever.

  9. 9
    mythago says:

    Okay, now that we’ve gotten the stirring John Donne-ish version of the Libertarian position out of the way–

    I don’t think anybody is actually shocked at the FDA’s behavior. Pissed off, yes; angry, yes; calling it on the fact that it’s supposed to be an agency concerned with science and public health but is playing politics, absolutely.

    I guess I’m not following the argument that the only possible approach to government is that it is inherently Evil, and therefore the only rational solution is to make sure we are the ones with our hands on the levers of Evil Control.

  10. 10
    Korry says:

    If Osco Drug can figure out how to limit the sale of wine and beer to people over 21, why can’t it figure out how to limit the sale of this drug to people over the age of 18? And why wouldn’t it be legal?

    I think there’s a difference between no sale to people under a certain age and dual sales, based on age. Since I doubt that any business is 100% successful at regulating sales based on age, the concern over minors having access to a drug that is available over the counter would be a logical ploy for the opponents to use to keep the drug from being marketed. I doubt that the concern over minors having access to the drug is about concern over minors having the drug. It’s about concern over minors being sexually active without their parent’s knowledge, and concern about allowing minors to make a decision about terminating a pregnancy without their parent’s permission. I’m sure all of that contributes to the question of legality, when no other drug or controlled substance is subject to dual sales, based on age.

  11. 11
    Kim (basement variety!) says:

    Hehe, I’m pretty sure I understand Robert’s arguments just fine. It’s called ‘boning up on how to advocate overturning Roe v. Wade – 101′.

    Samantha and Barbara both pretty much expressed how I feel about it.

  12. 12
    Kim (basement variety!) says:

    It’s about concern over minors being sexually active without their parent’s knowledge, and concern about allowing minors to make a decision about terminating a pregnancy without their parent’s permission.

    That would presume that Plan B is an abortificant, which has been established as not being the case. Lets go back to the basics on this one: No implantation, no pregnancy.

    Beyond which, they aren’t asking for parental consent, they are asking for prescription. You don’t need your parents to get a prescription for birthcontrol as a teen.

    It’s nothing more than a red herring to stymie the process of getting access to a form of birthcontrol that has gone under attack for bogus reasons. It yet again points out the glaring hypocrisy and ignorance of the anti-choice crowd that attempts to control not only a woman’s right to choose, but a woman’s right to prevent.

  13. 13
    Elena says:

    You don’t need a prescription for condoms. It’s about controlling girls, and punishing them.

  14. 14
    Kyra says:

    OK, I’m in a snarky and sarcastic mood, so this is not really meant to be taken seriously, but why don’t the pharmaceutical industries sell it as a weight-loss drug, or rather, a weight-gain-prevention drug—it prevents pregnancy, which makes you gain weight (fetus, fluids, and otherwise), and weight-loss drugs don’t seem to be regulated by the FDA. Pregnancy prevention at GNC (they do promote health & wellness, don’t they?).

  15. 15
    RonF says:

    Yeah, I’ve got a big problem with some of the stuff that the FDA doesn’t regulate. And I’m not generally a proponent of expanding governmental power. But in this case, where waiting for market forces to work out means people die, I’ll make an exception.