The Case for Plan B


Things haven’t looked good for women’s reproductive rights these days. Not with the abortion ban in South Dakota. Not with the pro-life pharmacy movement nationwide. About the only momentum in favor of choice is a lawsuit pending against the Food and Drug Administration over the morning-after pill, or Plan B.

For years now, the FDA has failed to make Plan B available to women without a prescription. In January 2005, the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights sued the agency, charging it with sex discrimination. It’s since made strides, deposing a steady number of agency officials, including former FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford. On June 22, those involved in the lawsuit will speak about the case as part of a panel, “NYC Women v. The FDA: The Morning-After Pill Fight.” The Voice caught up with Annie Tummino of Brooklyn (pictured below), the lead plaintiff and a Plan B crusader to get a sense of things to come.

Q: How did you become the lead plaintiff?

A: It was a natural fit. I work with the Morning-After Pill Conspiracy. We’ve given the pill to women in defiance of the prescription requirement and we’ve organized this pledge that says women would be willing to break the law to distribute it. We’re letting the FDA know we’re pissed off and going to keep it up until the pill is available over the counter. Meanwhile, the Center for Reproductive Rights was entertaining legal action to increase access to Plan B. It wanted someone who lives in New York City to be named as lead plaintiff. I definitely wanted to be a part of it.

Q: Any surprises for you in trying to get Plan B?

A: It’s hard to get, even when you know it’s hard to get. I needed it because I’d gotten behind on my birth-control pills. I couldn’t spend hours going around the city, trying to get it at clinics, standing in line. I was panicky. Luckily, I found a website linking women to emergency contraception. You put in your zip code and all these clinics come up. I was like, ‘Well, that’s nice but I don’t have time to get to the doctor while at work.’ Eventually, I found a hotline in New York City with a doctor who will prescribe it over the phone. Still, it’d have been much easier if I could have walked into my local drugstore and bought the pill over the counter.

Q: What makes this lawsuit against the FDA unique?

A: There is a lot of defense happening now, with the right banning abortion in South Dakota and trying to go to the U.S. Supreme Court. They’re feeling braver with Bush, pushing through all these anti-birth control measures. There isn’t a lot of forward movement in women’s reproductive rights. Yet we’re making this advance in the courts. We’re getting FDA officials under oath, answering questions in depositions. We’re holding the people in power accountable.

Q: Any smoking gun yet?

A: A lot of these officials are claiming they made their decisions on their own. I’m not sure I believe it, but it shows me how Bush is pushing his agenda by making these political appointments to these agencies. These appointees follow his positions. Who knows if there will be a smoking gun? But the depositions back up how unusual the process was for the FDA. It adds weight to the evidence that officials who would typically be involved in the process were not.

Q: Are the depositions over?

A: Actually, I just found out I’m going to be deposed. The government is going to depose myself and three other women. I don’t know what the goal is.

Hear Tummino and others speak about the FDA lawsuit and the broader Plan B fight on Thursday, June 22, at 6:30 p.m. at NYU’s Furman Hall, Room 214.