US Bishops Criticize FDA Proposal to Freely Sell Abortion Drug

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The US Food and Drug Administration is holding a public hearing today in suburban Washington DC to determine if the abortifacient “morning after pill” or “emergency contraceptive” should be made available without a prescription, and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCBB) has issued a statement that will be introduced at the hearing today.

December 16, 2003
Volume 1, Number 19

The US Food and Drug Administration is holding a public hearing today in suburban Washington DC to determine if the abortifacient “morning after pill” or “emergency contraceptive” should be made available without a prescription, and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCBB) has issued a statement that will be introduced at the hearing today.

In its statement, the USCCB cited multiple reasons against making emergency contraceptives available over-the-counter, pointing out the serious ramifications of allowing unmonitored access to emergency contraception, most notably among adolescent girls.

For instance, changing its status to an over-the-counter drug prevents any medical oversight that otherwise would be provided for by doctors and sends “the message that the drug is not medically or morally controversial.” As the USCCB points out, such access, “may also increase risk-taking behavior and promiscuity,” further endangering health and exposure to sexually transmitted diseases.

Allowing the drug to be more readily available has additional health risks. While the drug instructions specifically note that it should not to be used routinely, without sufficient medical monitoring there is no way to ensure this. Regular use of emergency contraceptives results in an increased risk of ectopic pregnancies, the symptoms of which mimic those experienced by the drug and can be fatal if left untreated.

The USCCB also states that “the FDA has no mandate to promote and facilitate ways of pregnancy that may cause the death of developing human life already conceived” and making the drug so easy to obtain “will reverse the legal and medical trend toward greater recognition and protection of human embryonic life, by making chemical agents that can destroy such life so easily obtainable.”

The USCCB points out the fatal harm the pill causes to embryos already conceived before the drug is taken. Emergency contraception can have an abortifacient effect by preventing a fertilized egg from attaching to the endometrial uterine lining, thereby artificially forcing the body to reject the pregnancy. Patient knowledge of this characteristic, more readily discussed with health practitioners, is insufficiently cited on the drug’s packaging.

Many of these points were also emphasized by Hanna Klaus, MD, Executive Director of the Natural Family Planning Center of Washington, D.C., who is also testifying at the hearing today. According to Klaus, emergency contraceptives “act either by delaying ovulation or preventing implantation of the embryo if conception has already occurred. Many women have ethical objections against aborting an embryo at any stage of development. They have a right to make an informed decision in this matter.”

Klaus also worries about a potential increase in risky behavior. According to Klaus, in Washington State, where emergency contraceptives are already available without a prescription, “Chlamydia infection has risen nearly 20%.” What is more, “The rise in sexual irresponsibility may be causally related to a belief that the risks of conception and/or implantation could, presumably, be obviated by timely ingestion of the morning after pill. The adolescents who seldom ‘plan’ sexual intercourse and are seen as one of the main groups of ‘consumers’ of Plan B [emergency contraceptives] will be even more likely to omit female contraception.” In light of all of this, Klaus concludes that “the only winners” in any policy change “will be the manufacturers and marketers of this drug.”

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