The Stalling of Plan B Forces Personal Plan C


Susan Wood, the director of the FDA’s Office of Women’s Health, resigned last week over the agency’s decision to keep the morning-after pill, called Plan B, off pharmacy shelves for the forseeable future. The drug, which is essentially a double dose of the common birth control pill, lowers the risk of pregnancy by 89 percent and had been easily approved by scientists and staff members. Some say it was the safest product they’d dealt with in years.

Arguing it didn’t know how to keep the pill out of the hands of teenagers—over the objections of agency scientists—the FDA again put off a decision. “It’s a denial by delay,” Wood says. “I can’t serve as staff when clear evidence is overruled.”

Who made the decision to postpone selling Plan B in pharmacies?

I don’t know. It did not appear to me that any of the professional staff were involved. At every level of the review process, we agreed that this was safe, effective, and appropriate for over-the-counter use. The decision was not made in the usual passage.

Opponents call Plan B an “abortion pill.” Is there any logic to this?

The only connection this product has with abortions is that it prevents them. The public debate baffles me. It’s extraordinary. Plan B delays ovulation. No matter when you believe life or pregnancy begins, this product is unlikely to ever involve a fertilized egg.

It’s contraception.

And we have condoms on the shelves. The sponge just came back. I don’t understand. It just doesn’t make sense that we couldn’t all agree that selling Plan B in pharmacies is a good thing. It will significantly reduce abortions. And these are real “abortions.” These are abortions we all agree are “abortions.”

Concerned Women for America protested against Plan B by saying that rapists could slip the pill to girls in order to “hide” their crimes. How do you make sense of this?

To me it suggests that contraception will somehow turn men who are not rapists or pedophiles into rapists or pedophiles. It will push them over the edge and lure them into it. I find this offensive to the men of the country. I am offended on their behalf.

Has it been harder to approve new products under the Bush administration?

Rulemaking and regulation has slowed—in most cases, but not all cases. I’m trying to avoid—I don’t want to be someone who says it was politicized. I don’t know. I wasn’t consulted. I wasn’t in any discussions. I wasn’t in the room. That’s part of the problem. They wouldn’t consult the director of the Office of Women’s Health for such a decision.

Did you intend for your resignation to be politically symbolic?

The decision was a personal one. I didn’t expect it to generate this kind of interest. Now that it has, I have to say I hope it serves some good. The FDA needs to make its decisions based on science. They need to stick with the evidence. I believe there’s quite a consensus on the acceptability of this product. The public reaction has been almost uniformly favorable. The conservative press has gone silent.

Do you know what you’ll do next?

No. I don’t follow the advice I give to other people, which is to always line up a job before you give up a current one. I resigned without a parachute.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 6, 2005

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