Plan B's Tangled Web
President Bush's cynical efforts to block over the counter sales of the emergency contraceptive Plan B have taken on almost comic proportions in recent days. But kowtowing to the radical right on Plan B has come at a steep price for Mike Leavitt, George Allen and other Republicans in the administration and Congress.
The Senate confirmation hearings of acting FDA chief Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach offered a new chapter in the President's rearguard action to keep Plan B off drug store shelves. The day before von Eschenbach's Senate appearance, the FDA suddenly announced it might approve non-prescription sales of Plan B to women over 18. That olive branch was meant to appease Senators Hilary Clinton (D-NY) and Patty Murray (D-WA) who had blocked his nomination until the status of Plan B of finalized. While the pill's maker Barr Pharmaceuticals reached a deal with FDA on Monday to launch over the counter sales, Senator Clinton voiced her wariness:
"Unfortunately, this is not just about Plan B. Once we start politicizing the FDA there is no stopping it; and from my perspective, it is essential that we draw the line. And we're drawing the line right here."
Clinton's trepidation is well justified. Plan B's use by women and girls had been overwhelmingly cleared by FDA's professional staff, but final approval had been repeatedly delayed by Bush political appointees. In September 2005, Susan F. Wood, at the time assistant FDA commissioner for women's health and director of the Office of Women's Health, resigned in protest over then Commissioner Lester Crawford's blocking tactics. Clinton and Murray, too, had been burned by Crawford and betrayed by Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, who had earlier given the Senators his assurance that action on Plan B would be taken if they dropped their hold on Crawford's nomination.
As it turned out, Crawford did not stay in the picture for long. On September 24, 2005, Crawford mysteriously resigned his post as FDA commissioner after only two months on the job. His sudden departure had nothing to do with his post-confirmation treachery, but instead a criminal inquiry into alleged financial improprieties and false statements to Congress.
Back at HHS, Leavitt is in hot water over his own financial misdeeds which lend credence to the old aphorism that charity begins at home. In July, it was revealed that Bush's go-to man on blocking the morning after pill used a non-profit foundation to enrich himself and family members. And just this morning, the IRS announced it will audit Leavitt's money-laundering foundation.
Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, neo-Confederate Virginia Senator and 2008 GOP presidential hopeful George Allen has come down with a case of the Plan B flu. An ardent abortion foe, Allen it turns out is a shareholder of none other than Barr Pharmaceuticals, maker of the Plan B emergency contraceptive. Allen's hypocrisy prompted one of his hometown papers to call on him to sell his Barr stock.
The war over Plan B is not over and the threat of collateral damage for the White House remains real. Even as drama over the Barr agreement and the von Eschenbach nomination process continues in Washington, the Bush administration is being sued in New York by a reproductive rights group that seeks to determine the White House's role in blocking Plan B approval.
Perhaps now, the Republican Party will pay for placing politics over science.