Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The War on Science and Plan B

Susan F. Wood, former assistant commissioner of women's health at the Food and Drug Administration, has an op-ed in the Washington Post this morning in which she has some very powerful things about the responsibility of federal health agencies, evidence-based medicine, and Plan B:

"At every stop I am reminded that whether it is the environment, energy policy, science education or public health, the American public expects our government to make the best decisions based on the best available evidence...

Time and again in my travels I am asked, "What happened to derail Plan B?" I have to answer honestly that I don't know. The manufacturer agreed to take the "controversial" issue of young teens' access to emergency contraception off the table in 2004; now we are talking only about adult access to safe and effective contraception. Over 98 percent of adult women have used some form of contraception. So what is the objection?

Perhaps it is that posed by a small but vocal political minority that insists on labeling emergency contraception as abortion, or at least confusing the two. One of the main questions I hear is, "Does this pill cause an abortion?" In fact, the only connection this pill has with abortion is that it has the potential to prevent the need for one. Emergency contraceptive pills work exactly the same way as other birth control pills, and they do not interfere with or harm an existing pregnancy. Emergency contraception is simply a higher dose of daily birth control pills; it is not RU-486, the "abortion pill." Indeed, emergency contraception has been used as a method to prevent unintended pregnancies for decades by women who had physicians advise them on how many pills in their regular pill pack to take. So people who are comfortable with oral contraceptives as methods of contraception should be just as comfortable with emergency contraception."

It is a disturbing commentary that such a small but vocal group has such pervasive influence that it can effectively cause well-educated individual to ignore scientific evidence... how does one combat this?

1 comment:

Rachel said...

Although it is important to distinguish Plan B from RU486, I think that Susan Wood's confidence that Plan B does not cause an abortion is an overstatement. Although she is correct in stating that Plan B is just a higher dosage of "the pill," what she fails to mention is that nobody is quite sure what the exact mechanism of action is for the pill. The pill could work one of two ways: 1) it may prohibit fertilization 2) it may prohibit implantation of a fertilized egg (a zygote) causing it to be expelled from the woman's body. If it works by prohibiting implantation of a zygote, then there are some who would consider it an abortion.