The President’s “Plan B”

Everybody needs a “plan B” in case “plan A” doesn’t work. However, few would come up with a plan B that could cause serious harm.Unfortunately, the “Plan B” that Andrew von Eschenbach, President Bush’s nominee to head the Food and Drug Administration, now wants sold over-the-counter to prevent pregnancy could cause serious medical complications for some women. That makes von Eschenbach completely unqualified to lead one of the agencies charged with safeguarding the nation’s health.

Dr. Von Eschenbach has directed the National Cancer Institute and he’s from the president’s home state of Texas. However, it’s possible that Bush didn’t know enough about this man when he picked him to lead the FDA. Bush could have been forgiven for making such a bad choice, but not anymore!

In his Monday press conference, the president endorsed the man and his plan to allow the emergency contraception drug known as Plan B to be sold without a doctor’s prescription to women 18 and older. What does that say about this president?

To be charitable, it was just plain dumb! This is no reflection on Bush’s intellect, which is a favorite subject among his detractors. (The fact that Bush is the president proves that he is smart like a fox.) However, Bush’s endorsement of the Plan B plan is not only bad public policy, it was dumb politically. He threw sand in the face of his conservative base, which has spent a lot of time and money educating the public on the inherent danger of making Plan B available without a prescription.

Emergency contraception drugs are essentially massive doses of the common birth control pill which, if taken within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse, will reduce the likelihood of pregnancy.

Birth control pills are available only with a doctor’s proscription for good reason: They can cause significant or life-threatening conditions such as blood clots, heart attacks and strokes for women with certain medical problems. The most common problem that exists among women of childbearing age, where the taking of birth control pills would be ill advised, is diabetes; but there are others. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that approximately 1.85 million women between the ages of 18-44 have diabetes and approximately a half million of these women do not know they have the disease.

Why would the FDA even consider making a massive dose of this drug available over-the-counter when the regular dose requires a prescription? This is unconscionable!

The answer is all too obvious: This was a political decision, not a scientific one!

The nation’s pregnancy profiteers want Plan B sold over-the-counter in the worst way. They were irked that the two previous FDA leaders, Mark McClellan and Lester Crawford, would not give in to their demands.

Dr. von Eschenbach now is serving as acting FDA chairman. Call me suspicious but on July 31, the day before his confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, he threw them a bone. The agency announced it would work with the drug company that markets Plan B to resolve the remaining issues involving its over-the-counter sale to adults.

That wasn’t good enough for Sen. Hillary Clinton and her ilk! She has vowed to hold up the nomination of von Eschenbach until the FDA makes it official, which, we can assume, is only a matter of time.

The FDA announcement prompted Dr. Tom Coburn, the only physician in the United States Senate, who regularly sees patients and delivers babies, to say this: “The Bush administration’s policy on the morning-after pill should be based on protecting the health of women not their nominees. Delaying the appointment of a new FDA commissioner will have virtually no effect on the lives of ordinary Americans. However, bowing to short-term political concerns in this debate could endanger the health and safety of thousands of Americans. Science and standard health-care practices support the policy that the morning-after pill should be available by prescription only.”

The FDA was heavily politicized under President Clinton. That is how RU-486 was approved without adequate review.

Mr. Bush now needs a “plan B” nominee to head the FDA. It takes a big man to admit he has made a mistake. The president should tell the public that his remarks on von Eschenbach and the morning-after pill were as ill-advised as the timing of the FDA’s announcement on this drug.

Bush should pledge to the American people that he will not allow this agency to be politicized. The only way to assure us of that is to replace von Eschenbach as acting head of the FDA and withdraw his nomination.

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