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April 06, 2006

A brief history of emergency contraception

Let's hear it for Democratic state legislators in Connecticut for reintroducing an emergency contraception provision when they "slipped it into" an all-purpose spending bill:

(Hartford-AP, Apr. 4, 2006 8:05 PM) _ The contentious issue of requiring all Connecticut hospitals to provide emergency contraception to rape victims is being kept alive at the state Capitol.

Republicans failed today in an attempt to strip language from a spending bill that would give five million dollars in energy assistance only to those hospitals that provide the morning-after pill to rape victims. [AP]

In honor of these true blue Democratic legislators, I bring you this brief history of modern emergency contraception. Prepare to be amazed, or non-plussed and outraged, depending on your political orientation.

Scientifically validated emergency contraception (EC) didn't exist until 1974. Dr. Albert Yuzpe, a Canadian OB-GYN, developed and tested the first EC regimen in 1974. Planned Parenthood explains:

The ECP regimen first approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is called the Yuzpe Regimen, named for Canadian Professor A. Albert Yuzpe who, in 1974, published the first studies demonstrating the safety and efficacy of ECPs. The Yuzpe regimen consists of combined oral contraceptive pills that contain the hormones estrogen and progestin taken in two doses Our story begins in 1974 when emergency contraception was as innovative as rocket science.

The FDA declared the Yuzpe regimen safe and and effective in 1997 and approved an Yuzpe-based EC kit in 1998. Plan B got FDA approval in 1999.

The drug marketed under the name "Plan B" is a major advance on the Yuzpe regimen. Plan B is the first progestin-only emergency contraceptive pill on the US market.

It wasn't until December 2003 that the FDA heard Plan B's application for over-the-counter status. The committee of scientific experts voted overwhelmingly to approve the drug, but senior Bush political appointees refused to allow Plan B to be sold OTC. The Government Accountability Office later described the ruling as a very rare move.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) issued an official statement calling the FDA's decision "morally repugnant".

The then-incoming president of ACOG gave a frank statement on Plan B to Medscape magazine:

Vivian M. Dickerson, MD, who takes over today as president of the ACOG, told Medscape that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is stalling a decision on Plan B for no good reason. "These are safe drugs and they should be available to women," she said. Moreover, she said that providing the drug as an OTC, "will be cost-effective because we can remove the cost of a physician's visit in order to get an EC prescription."

Ayelish McGarvey explains the politics behind the Plan B decision and relates the dirty secret of the sex criminal Bush appointed to the FDA's advisory panel on Plan B.


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I can understand why the debate on Plan B focuses on rape victims (at least on the liberal side), but I can't understand why in the debate over plan B or government funding of birth control you never hear about teratogens. It might be a minor rhetorical point, but I'd like to hear people that oppose or seek to limit access to contraceptions explain how it's okay to for me to take a medication that can cause birth defects or miscarriages (for up to six months after), but not not okay for my girlfriend to use any form of contraception. Sorry if I've made a similar comment hear before, I tend to be a broken record on the matter.

Good for the Connecticut legislators. Too bad their Senator can't get with the program.

That's a very useful timeline. There's also a great piece by P. Z. Myers on the science of Plan B that pretty much demolishes the idea that it's in any way like abortion.

"In honor of these true blue Democratic legislators..."

Chambers Reference Online: "true-blue Brit adj (a) extremely loyal; (b) staunchly orthodox. noun (true blue) someone who is unwavering in their support of something, especially the Conservative Party or the Royal Family."

As I'm sure Majikthise knows, blue is the colour of political conservatives in most countries, just as red is the colour of the political left. I don't suppose there's much hope of rearranging things in the U.S., but it's always discombobulating to see Bush and Co. painted as "reds".

It can also mean "authentically Australian." And it's the name of Madonna's third LP. But we know what majikthise meant.

wow... I expected something Pretty JUICY when I read that "emergency conception" part- & just rushed in here to see how I could help- but, "emergency conTRAception"... aaahh... OK- NOW I get it... DARN! ^..^

As I'm sure Majikthise knows, blue is the colour of political conservatives in most countries, just as red is the colour of the political left.

I find it annoying too, mijnheer--all the moreso because it's a very recent convention compared to the red-blue distinction in most of the world, which goes back centuries. But I also think you're right that there isn't a hell of a lot that can be done about it at this point.

Bear in mind that much of what passes for the "left" in this country will shy away from the color red instinctively because of the association with communism...

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