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Bush signals support for ‘morning-after’ pill

WASHINGTON (BP)–President Bush seemed to indicate Aug. 21 he supports over-the-counter sales of a “morning-after” pill that has abortion-causing qualities.

The president told reporters at a White House news conference he believes the drug, known as Plan B, “ought to require a prescription for minors.” He also said he supported the proposal of the acting head of the Food and Drug Administration to permit non-prescription sale of the pill to women 18 years of age and older.

Bush’s remarks would appear to end any hopes pro-life advocates had of persuading the FDA or the White House not to expand Plan B’s availability beyond prescription-only sales.

Plan B, as well as another “morning-after” pill known as Preven, is basically a heavier dose of birth control pills. Under the regimen, a woman takes two pills within 72 hours of sexual intercourse and another dose 12 hours later. The “morning-after” pill works to restrict ovulation in a woman but it also acts after conception, thereby causing an abortion, pro-lifers point out. This mechanism of the drug blocks implantation of a tiny embryo in the uterine wall.

Plan B and Preven are now available only with a prescription.

The FDA, with Andrew von Eschenbach as acting commissioner, announced July 31 it was working with Duramed, a subsidiary of Barr Pharmaceuticals, toward possible approval of Plan B on a non-prescription basis for women 18 and older. Barr previously had asked the FDA to approve over-the-counter sale of the pill to females 16 and older.

Barr, however, signaled Aug. 9 it is uncertain if it will accept the federal government’s proposal elevating the age for over-the-counter sale to 18.

The following exchange between a reporter and Bush occurred near the end of the Aug. 21 news conference.

Question: “Thank you very much. Mr. President; some pro-life groups are worried that your choice of FDA commissioner will approve over-the-counter sales of Plan B, a pill that, they say, essentially can cause early-term abortions. Do you stand by this choice, and how do you feel about Plan B in general?”

Bush: “I believe that Plan B ought to be — ought to require a prescription for minors, is what I believe. And I support Andy’s decision.”

Pro-life advocates generally oppose all sales of the “morning-after” pill. Some pro-life leaders were dismayed at Bush’s stance on Plan B.

“What happened to President Bush’s campaign promises of respecting the dignity of every human person and creating a culture of life?” asked Judie Brown, president of the American Life League, in a written release.

“President Bush is showing inconsistency in his support for life,” Brown said. “He recently vetoed a bill that would allow for extended funding of human embryonic stem cell research because of the potential loss of human life. However, he has no problem lending support to a drug that can do the very same thing he supposedly opposes — kills human embryos.”

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said the president was taking the country down a “disastrous path.”

The president vetoed in July a bill that would have funded stem cell research that destroys embryos stored at fertility clinics. The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act would have weakened Bush’s policy barring federal grants for experiments that result in the destruction of human embryos. The president’s rule allows funds for research only on embryonic stem cell lines already in existence when his policy was announced in 2001.

Bush appointed von Eschenbach as acting FDA commissioner last year.

Last August the FDA postponed a decision on Barr’s request to sell Plan B over the counter. In May 2004, the agency rejected Barr’s appeal for over-the-counter sales, citing a lack of evidence about the pill’s effect on girls 16 and younger. It gave the company an option of reapplying for over-the-counter sales for females 16 and older and prescription sales for girls 15 and younger. Barr resubmitted its request under those guidelines.

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