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It’s hard to know what to make of the Food and Drug Administration’s sudden decision to let Plan B¯the “emergency contraceptive” pill¯be sold over the counter in pharmacies. Well, actually, it’s not hard to know what to make of it: It was a compromise struck by the Bush White House with liberal Democratic senators that enabled George W. Bush’s pick, Andrew von Eschenbach, to be confirmed as FDA chief. The FDA’s first high-profile official act? You already know. Memo from Andy to Hillary: Thanks! This cynical bit of deal-striking was a slap in the face, not only to the pro-life pharmacists who have bravely risked their jobs in refusing to dispense Plan B on doctors’ prescriptions (they consider it an abortifacient, which it is), but to the pro-life movement in general. Some thanks pro-lifers get for their staunch support of Bush and his Republican party as an alternative to that wholly owned subsidiary of NARAL, the Democratic party. The Catholic gossip-blogger Rocco Palmo summed it up best :
In other anti-abortion news, the movement is none too pleased over President Bush’s signal earlier this week that he would support over-the-counter access to ‘Plan B,’ the abortifacient commonly known as the ‘morning-after pill.’ Intriguingly, the news came four days after one US bishop deemed abortion a ‘sacrament’ of but one political party¯i.e., not the Republicans, either. . . . Hmm. Seems a revision is in order.
Not only is the Plan B about-face substantively devastating, enabling anyone over the age of eighteen to procure a bargain-basement abortion for a mere $40, no questions asked; it is deeply humiliating to the pro-lifers who have been courageously defending themselves for three years¯since the Bush FDA refused to make Plan B available without a doctor’s prescription, only to change its mind last week¯against a vicious propaganda campaign waged by the abortion lobby and any and all members of the press and the liberal elite the abortion lobby could conscript as foot soldiers. Full-page newspaper ads vilified and ridiculed the pro-life pharmacists. And right before the Bush administration’s turnaround, as Von Eschenbach’s confirmation hung in the balance, beautifully timed pleas by self-described ordinary citizens to make Plan B more available sprang up on newspaper op-ed pages across the country. For example, this anti-Bush, anti–"Religious Right" screed by a pro-Plan B wife appeared in the Washington Post nearly simultaneously with this anti-Bush, anti–"Religious Right" screed in the Los Angeles Times by a pro-Plan B husband . So similar were the upscale, hyper-educated demographics of the two authors¯she, “Dana L.,” forty-something, a lawyer and mother of two elementary school-age children, who had a bout of passionate sex with her husband and forgot to use contraceptives; and he, David L. Ulin, forty-something, Times book editor, and father of two elementary school-age children who had a bout of passionate sex with his wife and forgot to use contraceptives¯that I briefly wondered whether “Dana L.” and Ulin were married to each other. Then I realized that they couldn’t be, for Ulin’s wife had actually taken Plan B the next day on her doctor’s prescription, while “Dana L."’s doctor declined to prescribe the drug over the phone, so “Dana” was obliged to have a surgical abortion, for which she blamed Bush, the "Religious Right," and the rest of the usual array of right-wing suspects. “Dana” must be chuckling right now over how readily Bush caved just weeks after her Plan B propaganda piece appeared in print. The line that the pro-Plan B people have adopted¯a line readily taken up by the media, which essentially agree with them¯is that Plan B is just another birth-control pill, only a bit stronger. Plan B must be taken within seventy-two hours of the unprotected intercourse, and it works, its advocates insist, mainly by preventing ovulation (the release of an egg by the woman’s ovary) or by preventing the egg from being fertilized by the sperm. Yes, they concede, perhaps every now and then Plan B will actually prevent the fertilized egg from traveling from the woman’s fallopian tube (where sperm and egg meet) down to the uterus for implantation (this is one reason the pro-life pharmacists deem Plan B an abortifacient), or prevent the uterine wall from receiving and implanting the fertilized egg (this is the other reason the pro-life pharmacists deem Plan B an abortifacient). But these cases are rare and hypothetical, they insist¯so anyone who opposes unrestricted distribution of Plan B is a prune-faced puritan who either doesn’t believe in contraception or else doesn’t want people to have sexual fun. These people need a refresher course in human reproduction: Conception takes place really fast . It takes only ninety seconds after ejaculation for the fastest-swimming sperm to pass through the woman’s cervix into her uterus and five minutes for the Mr. Lucky among the sperm to reach the fallopian tube and unite with the egg. In other words, while the blissful couple are murmuring, “Did the earth move for you, too?” to each other, they have already made a baby. By the “morning after,” the little zygote is already engaged in rapid cell-division, and by the end of the seventy-two-hour time frame for taking Plan B, it is a full-blown blastocyst implanting itself (or already implanted) in the uterus. There is no way to get that critter out except by destroying¯i.e. aborting¯it. Yes, Plan B can prevent ovulation in case it hadn’t occurred before last night’s intercourse, which would in turn prevent that egg from being fertilized by any sperm laggards still lurking near the cervix, but such cases are surely the more rare ones, especially since any woman who knows she’s not in her fertile period isn’t going to spend $40 on Plan B. The pro-life pharmacists, and the pro-life doctors who refuse to prescribe Plan B, are the ones with science on their side. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time that Bush has blown off pro-lifers in an effort to make some sort of compromise with their opponents on life issues. Almost exactly five years ago, in August 2001, Bush (or his advisers) decided he could please both sides on the embryonic stem-cell debate by allowing federal funding for research on stem-cell lines from embryos that had already been killed, on the theory that the embryos were dead anyway, so who cared? This unprecedented (even Bill Clinton had shied away from funding embryonic stem-cell research) and unprincipled (isn’t it grossly immoral to benefit from the deliberate destruction of human entities?) decision did nothing whatsoever to placate the militant pro–stem cell faction, which lobbied relentlessly until it nearly got what it wanted in the form of this year’s embryonic-destruction funding bill that, despite a Bush veto, isn’t going to go away. But Bush got a free pass back in 2001 from many religious conservatives who should have known better but decided to support him because he seemed more pro-life than his opposition (witness this mealy-mouthed editorial in the National Catholic Register ). I hope that this time around, the religious conservatives wake up to the fact that Bush is often not their friend. Again, he has thrown them a few bones¯in the name of provisions for monitoring Plan B distribution in order to ensure that the pills do not fall directly (in contrast to indirectly) into the hands of minors. But Bush’s opponents¯Planned Parenthood and its many allies¯already have their knives sharpened to gut those provisions, as well as the ban on sales to girls age seventeen and under. And there is more nastiness in sight for pro-life pharmacists, physicians, and hospitals. The Washington Post reports this:
The FDA decision does not resolve other controversial issues swirling around the pills, including the refusal of hospitals run by religious organizations to offer them, of some pharmacies to stock them and of some antiabortion pharmacists to dispense them.
Expect the abortion lobby, now that it has gotten most of what it wanted, to focus its efforts on securing the rest: forcing medical professionals of conscience to dispense a known abortifacient even to children or else lose their licenses and their livelihoods. Thank you very much, George W. Bush.

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