Federal limits on contraceptive should not restrict isle use
The Food and Drug Administration has approved an emergency contraceptive drug for nonprescription use.
A FEDERAL agency's age restrictions on a contraceptive drug should not limit its availability in Hawaii
where the law has allowed nonprescription use for years.
The Food and Drug Administration's prescription waiver for the drug removes barriers that had already been eliminated in Hawaii and eight other states. Its refusal of the drug to teenagers should not be too much of a hurdle, if at all.
For nearly three years, the FDA has withheld authorization of the emergency contraceptive, called Plan B, to be sold without a doctor's note, even though its own experts overwhelmingly recommended approval.
The continual delays led to criticism that the Bush administration was bowing to its conservative supporters and anti-abortion groups who did not want the drug to be more easily obtained, claiming that women would become more promiscuous and could be exploited by sexual predators who could force females to take the drug.
As a so-called compromise, the FDA cleared nonprescription use this week but only for women 18 and older; those younger would still require prescriptions. The drug would remain behind the pharmacy counter and dispensed after ID checks for age. Since the agency has no enforcement authority, it will rely on voluntary compliance and will require the drug's manufacturer to administer the rule.
Hawaii's program allows females 14 and older to obtain the contraceptive without prescriptions. Pharmacists who have undergone special training and work collaboratively with doctors issue a prescription and dispense the pills after providing consultation. They also refer women and teenagers to doctors for follow-up, a prudent measure the FDA is not requiring.
Whether the federal program will cut availability to teenagers here remains unclear. According to the American Pharmacists Association's legal experts, states with laws already in place, like Hawaii and Massachusetts, should not see any effects since pharmacists are technically writing a prescription.
State lawmakers and health officials should seek further clarification and, if need be, make adjustments.
Plan B is not an abortion pill, but rather a higher dose of a regular birth control pill. It lowers the risk of pregnancy by up to 89 percent when taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex. Because its effectiveness is timely, women need quick access, and getting a doctor's appointment often takes too long.
The FDA cannot cite any scientific reason for limiting the drug by age, overruling its own experts who deemed it safe for all ages. Its decision cedes science to ideology.