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2005-05-26

Dr. David Hager’s Family Values: Should This Man Be Advising Bush on Women’s Health?

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In a recent cover story, the Nation magazine examined the political and personal history of David Hager, a top advisor to the Food and Drug Administration. In the article, his former wife accused him of repeatedly raping her throughout their marriage. We talk to the reporter, Ayelish McGarvey, who broke the story and two women’s health experts on how Hager’s political views affect FDA policies on the morning after pill and other issues. [includes rush transcript]

Dr. W. David Hager was appointed by the Bush administration to the Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee of the Federal Drug Administration in 2002. Hager is a prominent Kentucky based obstetrician- gynecologist who is the author of six books including "Stress and the Women’s Body" and "As Jesus Cared for Women." At the time, his appointment to the FDA advisory committee alarmed many women"s groups because of his staunch opposition to abortion, emergency contraception and pre-martial sex. In his writings Dr. Hager has attacked the birth control pill for promoting promiscuity and advised bible readings to relieve premenstrual syndrome.

In December of 2003, Dr. Hager was one a small group of people on an FDA committee who voted against the over the counter sale of the morning after pill known- the emergency contraceptive pill known as Plan B. The vote was 23 to 4 in favor of permitting the pill to be sold without a prescription. One physician on the panel called Plan B, "the safest product that we have seen brought before us." But the FDA took the unusual step of disregarding the committee’s recommendation and did not approve Plan B for over the counter sales.

In a recent article on the cover of Nation magazine, reporter Ayelish McGarvey investigates Dr. Hager’s role in persuading the FDA to reject Plan B. She also reveals allegations by Dr. Hager’s former wife of rape and sexual abuse by Hager that went on for years.

Hager’s term ends in June. McGarvey questions whether women would knowingly choose a sexual abuser as their gynecologist or be comfortable with the idea of letting one serve as a federal advisor on women’s issues.

Ayelish McGarvey joins us from the studio in Washington DC — and here in New York we are joined by Nancy Northup —We are also joined by Sylvia Enriquez, Executive Director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. Sylvia’s organization is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. We invited the FDA to come on the program but they never responded to our request.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Ayelish McGarvey joins us from our Washington D.C. studio. She wrote the piece in The Nation. Let’s start with these allegations. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Ayelish.

AYELISH McGARVEY: Thank you. Essentially, I spoke with Linda Carruth Davis, as she is now known, formerly Linda Hager, David Hager’s wife of 32 years. I met her earlier this year. And she divorced Hager in 2002 right after he was appointed to the F.D.A. committee, and she alleges that throughout the course of their 32-year-long marriage, he sexually abused her, culminating in the last seven years in what could be described if the allegations are accurate under Kentucky law as first degree sodomy, which is rape, essentially. Linda Davis was narcoleptic, and David Hager would forcibly sodomize her while she slept. The pain of it would wake her up. Sometimes she would let him finish; other times she would push him off, she would resist. Both of those situations and scenarios were confirmed to me by a high level prosecutor in Lexington as being — qualifying as rape in the first degree under Kentucky statutes.

It should be noted, I think, that Linda Davis is actually a social conservative. She’s a theological conservative. She didn’t seek me out or seek The Nation out as a venue for airing her grievances against her ex-husband. I had heard about her story anonymously through a friend of hers about a year ago, and it took me a year to convince the friend and to convince Linda Davis to tell me her story on the record. She was also a frequent collaborator with David Hager on his public speaking in the Christian medical arena, as well as a co-author on one of his books that you mentioned called Stress and the Woman’s Body."

AMY GOODMAN: You open The Nation piece, which, by the way, did come out, by talking about Dr. Hager speaking before a packed auditorium at a small Evangelical Christian school, and his ex-wife being in the audience. Set the scene.

AYELISH McGARVEY: Sure. The school is called Asbury College. It’s in Wilmore, Kentucky, in a small town near Lexington, Kentucky, where Dr. Hager was a physician — is a physician. And he was there to give a morning service in the chapel there. It is his alma mater, it is also Linda Davis’s alma mater. They both have long legacies there. He’s on the board of trustees. She was in the audience that day. This was October 2004, I think you mentioned, this past October. They were divorced. She was in the audience that day to hear her son give a vocal performance and her ex-husband was scheduled to be the featured speaker.

He rose to the podium and began talking about his role at the F.D.A., his role in the Plan B decision, which I think we’ll possibly get to in a moment, and then also spoke publicly in this very sacred place that they both hold very dear in front of 1,000 people and talked about publicly about their divorce, and what a shock it was to him, what a blow, the fact that he really attributed the divorce to it being him not nourishing his marriage enough, nurturing his wife enough and not giving her enough time, when in fact there had been a long legacy of sexual and emotional abuse that had finally forced her out of the marriage.

I should also note that prior to the allegations of rape in the earlier part of their marriage, David Hager had paid his wife for sex and had been extremely controlling of the family finances, so that that was a way that she could get money from him, as well as being — pressuring her into things that she did not want to be doing, and really establishing a climate of sexual and emotional abuse throughout the marriage.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Ayelish McGarvey, whose piece in The Nation magazine is called "Dr. Hager’s Family Values." Is it possible, Ayelish, that his ex-wife’s politics have changed, and this is a political hit on her ex-husband?

AYELISH McGARVEY: Not at all. Actually, we have been tracking the fallout from the story — it’s been out about a week now — very closely, and her main reason for going forward was to set the story straight. He had been very public in the aftermath of their divorce and speaking in front of that packed auditorium at Asbury, like we were talking about, that was actually a tipping point for her, that he had sought to publicly manage the perception of her as mentally unstable or promiscuous or things that were flatly untrue. And as his prominence was growing, his audience was widening for him to be able to do that, and she finally relented and decided that it was important to set the story straight and talk to me. But her politics have not changed at all.

AMY GOODMAN: We did try to reach the F.D.A., and they said they wouldn’t talk about individuals. But did you speak to Dr. Hager?

AYELISH McGARVEY: I did speak to Dr. Hager for 30 minutes in early April before the story went to press. And his only on-the-record quote to me was that he declined to comment. He subsequently, after the story was released, he spoke to the Lexington Herald Leader, his hometown newspaper, and essentially told them — I’m not going to get the quote exactly right here — but that they didn’t have all the facts. And since they didn’t have all of the facts, that it wasn’t true. But it was a very strange and kind of flimsy denial.

AMY GOODMAN: Ayelish McGarvey has this piece in the May 30 issue called "Dr. Hager’s Family Values." We are also joined in our New York studio by Nancy Northup, the President of the Center for Reproductive Rights. The Center has filed a lawsuit against the F.D.A. We are also joined by Sylvia Enriquez, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. Sylvia’s organization is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. We did invite the F.D.A. to come on the program, but they did not respond to our request. So, Nancy Northup, start off by talking about what this has to do with your lawsuit?

NANCY NORTHUP: Well, we have sued the F.D.A. over the failure to approve emergency contraception that’s often known as the "morning after pill" for use on the drugstore shelves without a prescription. And the F.D.A.'s panel, including the panel Dr. Hager was on, overwhelmingly found that emergency contraception should be available, off the counter shelves in a pharmacy, that in a very unusual move the F.D.A. did not approve emergency contraception for over-the-counter use, and its own internal memos show that its scientists and the advisory committee all felt that it's safe and effective for over-the-counter use. So politics is going on in not approving emergency contraception. We have sued on behalf of the National Latina Institute, other women’s groups who want to see this very safe method of contraception available.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain exactly what it is.

NANCY NORTHUP: Emergency contraception is basically birth control pills that you can take within 72 hours of unprotected sex or if contraception fails, as a backup plan. It will prevent pregnancy. And it’s very effective if used within 72 hours and could help with the really high numbers of unintended pregnancies we have here in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Is this what we know at RU-486?

NANCY NORTHUP: No, RU-486 is actually an abortion pill. And that’s taken a little bit later in pregnancy. This is contraception. It stops implantation and pregnancy from beginning. So, it’s contraception, and the American Medical Association and other women’s health groups all believe this is important to be available on the drugstore shelves, instead of having to go to a doctor and get a prescription.

AMY GOODMAN: Sylvia Enriquez, why in particular the Latina Institute as the plaintiff here?

SYLVIA ENRIQUEZ: Well, as you may know, close to 40% of Latinas lack health insurance. Latinas have one of the highest rates of unintended pregnancies, and almost a quarter of Latinas lack any source of primary health care. Therefore, having emergency contraception available without a prescription and without having to necessarily go to a provider, especially when you have had unprotected sex, and it’s a very timely manner, so you really need to get — to be able to access emergency contraception immediately. So that’s why we think it’s critically important for Latinas and other women to be able to access emergency contraception in a timely manner.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, what does this lawsuit mean? Where do you go from here?

SYLVIA ENRIQUEZ: Well, specifically we are using it as another advocacy strategy to insure that, you know, emergency contraception becomes available over the counter and that science triumphs over politics in this situation.

AMY GOODMAN: What about Dr. Hager’s role in this, Nancy Northup?

NANCY NORTHUP: Well, Dr. Hager was one of the very few dissents on the advisory panel that told the F.D.A. overwhelmingly, this is safe and effective, it meets all of our standards for over-the-counter. So it’s very troubling, particularly in the report in The Nation about Dr. Hager’s comments in a church that, you know, God was sort of on his side in dissenting on this, that these kind of values are coming into play. The F.D.A. should be making its decisions based on science, based on whether or not drugs are safe and effective and being able to use. The public health would so be promoted, which is part of the F.D.A.’s mission, by having emergency contraception available on drugstore shelves.

AMY GOODMAN: And how common is this kind of lawsuit that you have brought?

NANCY NORTHUP: It is not usual at all. That’s because the F.D.A.'s actions here are highly unusual. When its own drug advisory panels want something over the counter, when its own scientists see something as safe and effective, and when it would so help advance the public health, the F.D.A. makes those drugs available. So it's unusual because the actions here are very unusual.

AMY GOODMAN: What is the company that makes Plan B? And what role has it played?

NANCY NORTHUP: The company that makes Plan B was originally called the Women’s Capital Corporation and it’s now Barr Laboratories. They filed a petition in 2003, asking for its drug to be brought over-the-counter use. And they are still working with the F.D.A. The F.D.A.'s — one of the comments it made in January was, boy, maybe this isn't going to be a good thing for young adolescent women. That’s not supported by the drug studies. It’s not supported by their inside scientists, but now, the company has asked for this to be over-the-counter just for 16 and up. But our lawsuit is asking for this to be available for all women, because it’s safe and effective for all women, and there’s no group, as its own scientists have said, that need it more than young women who are unlikely to go to a doctor to get a prescription.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk more, Sylvia Enriquez, about women’s access to health care, particularly Latina women, in this climate. Is it different from Clinton to Bush?

SYLVIA ENRIQUEZ: Absolutely. We have seen that Latinas, because of, you know, the very hostile climate, but also not just on attacks on reproductive health care, but also on immigrant rights and civil rights, Latinas really lack access to basic health care services, let alone reproductive health care services. And when Latinas are, you know, confronted with an unintended pregnancy or the potential of an unintended pregnancy, we need to ensure that they have the most access to all sorts of health care, particularly emergency contraception. We have seen that, you know, Latinas have high rates of unintended pregnancy. Also, you know, close to 70% of Latinas want more information on family planning, contraception, particularly emergency contraception, and this — you know, this method is very, very critical to insure that the well-being of Latinas is met and that, you know, there are options for women to be able to make their own decisions, and that their, you know, health and dignity is in their own hands.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the issue that abortion is now being raised for the first time, front page piece in The New York Times, just a few days ago?

NANCY NORTHUP: Well, the Supreme Court has taken another case on abortion, and it’s one that involves young women’s access to abortion in New Hampshire, and the court should, you know — has been pretty clear that young women do have a right to access contraception and abortion. The issue in New Hampshire is about a parental consent case. But we want to make sure — and in that case, I think the court will uphold what the lower court found, which is that women’s health, including teenager’s health, always has to come first, and you have to make sure that they have a way to access health care. And that’s why contraception is involved in women’s health care, abortion’s involved in women’s health care, and that’s the issue the Supreme Court is going to look at, whether New Hampshire didn’t adequately provide for young women’s health needs when they’re trying to seek an abortion.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to wrap up with Ayelish McGarvey on the issue of Dr. David Hager’s personal life and about the allegations against him by his ex-wife, and how this relates to Plan B and overall U.S. policy and women’s access to health care.

AYELISH McGARVEY: Well, a couple of things. One thing that didn’t get mentioned yet so far is that the second piece of news that was unearthed besides these allegations of sexual abuse on behalf of Linda Davis is that Dr. Hager has an explicit connection to the Plan B decision at the F.D.A. that goes beyond just his dissent vote in the four that dissented in 2003. Dr. Hager in Asbury that day professed to having written what he deemed a minority opinion that someone at the F.D.A. asked him to write in order to further clarify his views, which ended up being completely mirrored in the letter that the F.D.A. sent to Barr Laboratories when it did not approve its over-the-counter status for Plan B. So this is a very serious thing. This is a matter of not just a committee vote standing on its own, but that the F.D.A. actually solicited additional opinion outside of the committee process from a very highly politicized appointee like David Hager. And that point cannot be lost.

Hillary Clinton and Patty Murray in the Senate have actually stalled Lester Crawford’s nomination to the F.D.A. commissioner until Mike Leavitt at H.H.S. has investigated the role that Hager played behind the scenes in the Plan B decision. It should also be said that there’s a real amount of hypocrisy on the right here with the issue of Plan B. If, as you’ve seen, based on Hillary Clinton’s comments earlier this year and some democrats on the left, namely Howard Dean, talking about a desire to — while keep abortion safe and legal also to reduce the abortion rate, Plan B is the way to do that. Many, many scientists have said that widening the availability of emergency contraception would reduce unintended pregnancies and thereby significantly reduce the American abortion rate. That should be something that should be a no-brainer, an easy thing for people on the left and the right to unify around. And yet you are seeing the Bush administration and religious conservatives going behind the scenes to make sure that Plan B is not accessible to women. There’s some real, real questions and concerns that are raised by this.

AMY GOODMAN: Ayelish, we only have ten seconds, but why hasn’t Linda Davis brought charges, if she’s making these charges, so that David Hager can have his day in court?

AYELISH McGARVEY: I think she wants to save her family. I think this has been a hard enough thing to go through. She really wanted the truth to be out there. She doesn’t want to destroy him, and she wants to start rebuilding a life with her adult sons.

AMY GOODMAN: Ayelish McGarvey, author of the piece in the May 30 edition of The Nation, "Dr. Hager’s Family Values." We’ve also been speaking with Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights here in New York, and Sylvia Enriquez, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.

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