Friday, June 4, 2004


Move swiftly on rules
for ‘morning-after pill’


Devising regulations has delayed a law that allows over-the-counter sale of a drug to prevent pregnancy.

A RULE-MAKING process that has delayed women's access to emergency contraceptives for a year may have been unnecessary, as legislative supporters say, but now that the bureaucratic exercise is nearly complete, officials of the Lingle administration should move expeditiously. Further delay in applying the law leaves women without a safe method of avoiding pregnancy and increases the likelihood of abortion.

The law, which allows pharmacists to dispense the contraceptive without a prescription, follows similar measures that other states have adopted and implemented quickly. Although there are differences in pharmaceutical practices from state to state, most pharmacists in Hawaii have been trained and certified to carry out the program.

With the Food and Drug Administration's refusal last month to permit nonprescription sales -- against the overwhelming recommendation of its advisory panels -- Hawaii's program becomes all the more critical.

The so-called "morning-after pill," which contains a stronger dose of hormones than in ordinary contraceptive pills and has been used safely for more than 30 years, is effective in preventing conception if used within 48 to 72 hours after sexual intercourse. However, in many cases, women do not have enough time to see a doctor to get a prescription, especially during weekends or if they live in rural areas.

The contraceptive has been deemed safe for over-the-counter sales by two FDA panels made up of medical experts as well as the American Medical Association. Opposition has come from some anti-abortion advocates even though the pills actually could prevent as many as 1.5 million unintended pregnancies a year and reduce the rate of abortions.

The state Legislature, recognizing that quick access to the pill makes sense, cleared the measure in 2003, but the Lingle administration required rules to be in place first. The rule-making has consumed a year, which Rep. Marilyn Lee called "inexcusable."

The governor may be erring on the side of caution since contraception remains a contentious issue among conservative members of her Republican Party. However, the plan was approved after years of hearings and discussions and it is now the law.

The rules still face a number of hurdles, including a public hearing and Lingle's authorization. The governor, who put her signature on the law, should assure the process moves swiftly.


Don’t resurrect flawed
airport security system


Some members of Congress are suggesting the nation return to privatized aviation security.

SECURITY practices performed by a low-bid private company at Honolulu Airport was described as intolerable in the wake of Sept. 11 and have since been turned over to a new federal agency. However, complaints about the performance of the Transportation Security Administration's passenger and baggage screening nationwide have led to talk about privatizing airport security. If that is the course, it should not resemble the private operations that preceded the terrorist attacks.

Security practices were said to be so lax at Honolulu Airport that dangerous material easily passed through checkpoints. In one test, fake hand grenades taped to wheelchairs passed through checkpoints seven out of nine times. In one of the two cases in which the grenade was spotted, it had fallen from the tape.

Private security companies submitted winning low bids to airline consortiums by paying minimum wages and offering little training to their screeners. Many of the screeners in Honolulu were recent immigrants who could speak little English. Similar deplorable systems were used in other airports across the country.

Unfortunately, security may have improved little if at all by federalizing the operations. In two government reports, the performance was described as similar between federal security screeners and those at five airports where companies screened baggage and passengers in a test program. One congressman said the failure rates were comparable to 1987, when he proposed legislation to improve aviation security after learning about poor screening.

House Aviation Subcommittee Chairman John Mica of Florida and other Republicans say private companies can do a better job than civil service employees. Some Democrats accuse the Republicans of weakening security by refusing to give the agency enough money; the number of passenger and baggage screeners has been reduced from 60,000 to 45,000.

In November, airports will have the option of returning to privately employed screeners. If Honolulu Airport should choose to privatize security operations, it should do so in a way that cannot be compared with the poor operation of pre-Sept. 11.

The TSA should remain in charge and provide close oversight. That is how Mica envisions the agency's future. "The TSA should set policy, do oversight, conduct audits, possibly do background checks," he says.



Oahu Publications, Inc. publishes the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, MidWeek and military newspapers

David Black, Dan Case, Dennis Francis,
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Dennis Francis, Publisher

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