Plan B: Midterm Election Calculations genre: Hip-Gnosis & Little Red Ribbon-Hood & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Former Food and Drug Administration Chief, Lester Crawford, testified that the delay in approving the Plan B contraceptive was primarily to allow more time to determine the guidelines for its distribution. He indicated the administration was trying to determine how to limit the over the counter sales of the product to women over the age of 17. Read the full article here.

Former FDA commissioner Lester Crawford, in a sworn statement, said he had reserved the right to decide whether to loosen the sales restrictions on the prescription-only emergency contraceptive pills. His account of that unusual and perhaps unprecedented move, given in a deposition over a lawsuit against the FDA, confirmed earlier testimony given by two senior agency officials who said he'd shut them out of the decision-making process.

Crawford said he had expected the FDA would take six to nine months — "tops" — to work out the enforcement issue following his August announcement. Crawford abruptly resigned from the agency the next month; nearly nine months later, the FDA still has not announced a Plan B decision.

Crawford's August announcement that the decision was being delayed stirred accusations that the FDA was allowing politics to trump science. But Crawford testified that the science had concluded that it was "possible" for women older than 16 to use Plan B without a prescription.

"I made a decision that that was correct. What I could not decide on is whether or not I could stand before the American people and say this will be successfully enforced. That I could not decide," Crawford said in his deposition.

The question of whether the decision was being influenced by politics becomes an increasingly significant consideration as the country approaches the November midterm elections. Senator Clinton of New York and Senator Murray of Washington have vowed to block the nomination of Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach, Crawford's replacement, until the Plan B decision is rendered.

Strategically, a decision in the next few months could influence voter sentiment. If the FDA were to deny the approval of Plan B or place numerous restrictions on its sale, it might satisfy social conservatives while also motivating the turnout of the liberal Democratic base. On the other hand, if Plan B is approved and there aren't restrictions on over the counter sales to minors, social conservatives could expand their threats to sit out the midterm election. An alternative possibility is that no decision will be forthcoming until after November if the administration feels that the potential impact on voters is too uncertain.

Crawford's actions may have left the FDA forever vulnerable to suspicion that politics is being allowed to influence decisions related to scientific and health matters. This controversy seems to be another example of the expanded executive influence sought by the Bush administration...whether that is perception or reality is yet to be determined.

Daniel DiRito | June 13, 2006 | 1:49 PM
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