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Presidential Hopefuls Veto Emergency Contraception Despite FDA Support

StoryAugust 04, 2005
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Three governors eyeing the 2008 presidential race are appealing to the Christian Right by vetoing state legislation legalizing over-the-counter sale of the Morning-After pill. We host a debate between NARAL Pro-Choice New York and the Family Research Council. [includes rush transcript]

Today, legislation hits the desk of New York Republican Governor George Pataki that would allow pharmacists to give out emergency contraception to women without a prescription. The contraception known as the Morning-After or Plan B pill was overwhelmingly approved for over-the-counter-use in 2003 by an FDA advisory panel and the full FDA is expected to vote on the drug next month.

Earlier this week, Pataki, through his spokesperson, Kevin Quinn, revealed that he intended to veto the legislation, outraging many Republicans and Democrats who backed him precisely because of his long support for reproductive rights. Pataki’s position came to light just days after he announced that he would not seek a fourth term in the Governor’s office. Critics of the Governor said he was altering his position in order to win favor with national conservatives as he prepares for a possible presidential run in 2008. Pataki’s office denies the charge and says that he would re-consider the legislation if it restricted minors’ access to the drug.

Pataki’s position was revealed when his administration was asked about plans by NARAL Pro-Choice New York to launch a nationwide television advertising campaign intended to get Pataki to back the bill. The spots aired this week in New York, Iowa and New Hampshire–the traditional sites of the first presidential nominating contests.

  • NARAL advertisement, airing in New York, Iowa and New Hampshire.

An ad released in New York, Iowa and New Hampshire this week by NARAL. Pataki is not the only Republican Governor with eyes on the Presidency who has vetoed legislation increasing women’s access to Plan B. Last week, Republican Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts vetoed similar legislation. And earlier this year Colorado Republican Governor Bill Owen vetoed a bill that would have required health care providers to inform rape victims about the emergency contraception.

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is one of the NARAL ads.

NARAL ADVERTISEMENT: Governor Pataki is thinking of running for president. Some say he must appeal to right wing conservatives to win the primary. That may explain why he hasn’t supported the bipartisan bill to increase women’s access to emergency contraception, preventing more than 80,000 abortions per year, as Governor Pataki has always supported reproductive choice. So as he considers the Oval Office, he may want to consider this: New Yorkers and Americans value principles over politics. Do the right thing, Governor. New York and America are watching.

AMY GOODMAN: That ad released in New York, Iowa and New Hampshire this week by NARAL. Governor Pataki is not the only Republican governor with eyes on the presidency who has vetoed legislation increasing women’s access to Plan B. Last week, Republican Governor, Mitt Romney of Massachusetts vetoed similar legislation. Earlier this year, Colorado Republican Governor, Bill Owens, vetoed a bill that would have required health care providers to inform rape victims about the emergency contraception. We’re joined in our New York studio by Destiny Lopez, Program Director at NARAL Pro-Choice New York, and in Washington, D.C., by Dr. Charmaine Yoest. She’s Senior Fellow for Policy Studies at the Family Research Council, one of the most vocal critics of Plan B. We welcome you both to Democracy Now! First, Destiny Lopez, your response to Governor Pataki, who you have always hailed as pro-choice, saying that today that he will veto the legislation?

DESTINY LOPEZ: NARAL Pro-Choice New York is profoundly disappointed in the governor’s decision. Emergency contraception is just what it says. It’s contraception that a woman can use to prevent pregnancy. Its use in New York can prevent up to 80,000 abortions each year. And we really find Governor Pataki’s actions and his announcement to be reprehensible. This is a governor with a ten-year pro-choice record. He has done nothing but expand and advance women’s access, women of all ages, to all forms of contraception. And we really think that he is putting his presidential aspirations above his principles.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Dr. Charmaine Yoest, your view on why you are opposed to the pill and on Governor Pataki’s stance?

CHARMAINE YOEST: I’m not opposed to the pill, but I want to be very specific that we need to make a difference between this morning-after pill and normal contraceptive pills. What we’re hearing from NARAL here is classic misinformation that they’re putting out to the public about how this drug actually works. And I think it’s really important to note, too, that Governor Pataki seems to have a much better handle on national politics than NARAL does. The vast majority of Americans want to see parents involved in when their children get drugs. And putting a drug like this that can be very dangerous over-the-counter really does threaten young people’s health. It’s really interesting to us that NARAL is not campaigning to see the pill, generally speaking, released over the counter, and yet this particular drug, Plan B and Preven, the other morning-after pill that people can take, can have hormones that are eight times stronger than the normal pill, and so, you know, we see people — you have to go into a doctor and be under a doctor’s supervision to take other kinds of contraceptive, but not with this one. And so, you’re looking at putting a drug in a hormonal regimen that can be very dangerous over the counter to people without doctor supervision, and we’re very troubled by that. In fact, people need to know that a 14-year-old girl in England actually did die from a stroke after taking this regimen. Her mother didn’t have any idea that she was taking it. And that’s the kind of thing that we are very, very troubled by, and we think the American people share that concern.

AMY GOODMAN: Destiny Lopez, with NARAL.

DESTINY LOPEZ: First of all, the FDA approved this medication in 1997 as a method of pregnancy prevention. It is only effective up to five days after unprotected sex. But the sooner a woman can take it, the more effective it is. In 2003, as was stated in the lead in to this segment, the FDA’s own expert advisory committee made up of scientists, made up of medicine, medical doctors, researchers, overwhelmingly approved that this was safe enough for use over the counter for women of all ages. For one of the first times in the history of the FDA, they actually went against their own advisory committees and denied over the counter approval. The American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Academy of Pediatrics are with us on this issue, saying that it’s safe and effective enough for use by all women over the counter. But in New York, we are actually keeping it behind the counter. A young woman can go in, can talk to a pharmacist, can find out about the drug and might actually be able to go to get a referral for a regular method of birth control. It’s a back up method.

CHARMAINE YOEST: So, now you’re advocating having pharmacists do health care for young people? I mean, Destiny, the reason that we’re having these kinds of problems with these medications is because groups like yours are politicizing medicine in this country. We saw this exact same thing go on with the FDA with RU-486, and now we’re seeing years later, women dying from using that drug, as well. And we’re not hearing an outcry from groups like yours to have greater oversight of drugs that can harm women’s health. And I think that’s very troubling, and you all who put yourselves forward as a group on behalf of women should be ashamed of yourselves for not being more concerned about women’s health.

DESTINY LOPEZ: I want to reiterate that this is a contraception. This is the same thing as regular dosage of birth control.

CHARMAINE YOEST: No, no, it’s not.

DESTINY LOPEZ: And women have been taking birth control for over —

CHARMAINE YOEST: That is simply not true.

DESTINY LOPEZ: — since the 1960s without any adverse effects. It’s a concentrated dose of regular birth control that the FDA has approved, that science and medicine believes is safe and effective enough for use over the counter. As women’s health advocates, it’s our duty to give women a second chance to act responsibly to prevent pregnancy so that they can start families when they’re ready to start them. >> We’re going to have to leave it there. Destiny Lopez, Program Director, NARAL Pro-Choice, New York; Dr. Charmaine Yoest, Senior Fellow for Policy Studies for the Family Research Council.

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