Nancy Northup calls for greater access to emergency contraception for American servicewomen overseas.
“Despite last week’s victory against the FDA, military facilities are not required to stock Plan B, making the drug difficult to access for American servicewomen overseas.”
The Hill Blog, March 30, 2009
Nancy Northup, President, Center for Reproductive Rights
Chalk one up for policy based on science versus ideology! The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York ruled earlier this week that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decision to limit over-the-counter access to the emergency contraceptive Plan B to women 18 and older violated its established rules. The court found that the FDA had not acted in good faith and had been improperly influenced by “political considerations” in evaluating whether the emergency contraceptive Plan B, commonly known as the morning-after-pill, should be made available without a prescription. First the FDA unjustifiably delayed issuing a determination on whether the contraceptive should be sold over-the-counter, and when they finally were pushed into a political corner, the agency approved it only for 18 and older, despite their own scientists having found it safe and effective for all age groups. The decision is an important victory for all Americans who expect the government to safeguard their health, not undermine it. With this ruling we have succeeded in expanding access to 17-year-olds without a prescription and are one step closer to making it fully available to all women.
But, emergency contraception is still difficult to access for many groups of women, including the more than 200,000 women serving in the Armed Services. It’s excluded from the list of what military facilities, including the primary stores where families shop, are required to stock. That can be particularly challenging for women and families who are based overseas and rely solely on those facilities to buy over-the-counter drugs. More than 160,500 American female soldiers have served in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Middle East since the war began in 2003. According to a 2007 Department of Defense Report, there were 2,688 reported sexual assaults involving military personnel in 2007. Why would the government limit these women’s ability to prevent unintended pregnancies?
This is undoubtedly another example of the Bush administration playing politics with women’s health. In 2002, the Department of Defense, relying on its technical experts, initially approved emergency contraception for its Basic Care Formulary, which would have required that it be stocked at all military treatment facilities. That approval was quickly rescinded when it reached the radar of political appointees. Sounds like what was going on at the FDA: scientists support access to emergency contraception, political pressure shuts it down. Now, it’s available only at those military health facilities that decide to make it available. In the meantime, the lack of the contraceptive doubly victimizes servicewomen – some of whom suffer from trauma serious enough to impair their military careers.
In the last Congress, then-Senator Hillary Clinton and Rep. Michael Michaud (D-Maine), introduced legislation that would have required full access to emergency contraception for servicewomen at all U.S. military health care facilities around the world. We no longer, however, need to wait for Congressional action to right this wrong. President Obama has promised to restore scientific integrity to government actions in his administration.
Join me in calling on President Obama to direct Robert Gates, the secretary of Defense, to make Plan B available to our servicewomen. Click here to send President Obama a message.
By including Plan B in the basic medications available to servicewomen, we can ensure that they and female dependants of service members have broader access to important, necessary health care and help ensure that those serving our country receive the same standard of care that the rest of us receive.