Fox News host Martha MacCallum and guest Dr. Manny Alvarez misrepresented the science behind Plan B and ignored the legal reasons behind the pending over-the-counter availability of this emergency contraceptive.
Leading her segment by incorrectly describing the contraceptive as an abortifacient for use "after sex they think may have resulted in a pregnancy," MacCallum hosted Alvarez, Fox's senior managing editor for health news, to repeat his discredited claims about Plan B's alleged dangers. Specifically, Alvarez claims that "from a scientific point of view," Plan B is only "safe for women." Both MacCallum and Alvarez professed ignorance as to the real reasons the one-pill form will soon be available without a prescription. From the June 11 edition of America's Newsroom:
ALVAREZ: From a scientific point of view I know, yes, Plan B is safe for women. But since when is a 10-year-old a woman? All the advocates that say oh this is a great success for women's health rights and all of that, I get the whole thing if you want to say women, fine, but a 10-year-old, an 11-year-old, a 12-year-old - those are kids. They're not even teenagers.
MACCALLUM: I sent my daughter to buy, you know, the d-level of allergy medicine the other day at CVS and they wouldn't sell it to her without an ID that showed she was 18. You can't buy cold medicine, you can't get your appendix taken out without your parents standing right by your side at the hospital. But you can do this with no problem. Explain what kind of world we live in when that is the situation.
ALVAREZ: The rationale is really something that I can't put my head around it.
In fact, the science that has been used by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and federal courts to repeatedly validate Plan B for over-the-counter access is not solely focused on "women," but confirms the contraceptive is "safe and effective and should be approved for nonprescription use for all females of child-bearing potential."
Indeed, contrary to MacCallum's attempt to equate Plan B with allergy medicine used as a precursor for illegal methamphetamine and an invasive surgical procedure, The New England Journal of Medicine has explained that Plan B is safer than Tylenol. From "The Politics of Emergency Contraception":
[Opposition to Plan B] cannot be based on issues of safety, since a 12-year-old can purchase a lethal dose of acetaminophen in any pharmacy for about $11, no questions asked. The only documented adverse effects of a $50 dose of levonorgestrel are nausea and delay of menses by several days. Any objective review makes it clear that Plan B is more dangerous to politicians than to adolescent girls.
It is this science behind the safety and efficacy of Plan B - available with a prescription since 1999 - that the FDA relied upon when it determined Plan B should be available over the counter alongside other contraceptives. Not only did MacCallum and Alvarez ignore this long-standing rationale for Plan B availability, they also completely failed to report the existence of a scathing federal court order demanding it pursuant to the scientific evidence, recently reinforced by the U.S Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
This string of significant legal losses is what led the Department of Justice to drop its effort to contest the availability of Plan B for "all females of child-bearing potential" and defer to the clear scientific consensus. As reported by The Washington Post's health expert, Sarah Kliff, the one-pill form of Plan B will now be available over the counter because the Department of Justice recognized the reality of its "long-shot legal challenge" to either form of this emergency contraceptive:
[The district court] had ordered that two emergency contraceptives, Plan B and Plan B One-Step, be made available without prescription to all women and girls. The appeals court partially sided with the administration: It issued a stay for Plan B One-Step because of jurisdictional issues. The case that [the district court] initially heard dealt only with the two-pill product, not Plan B One-Step, which could put the one-pill product outside the scope of that particular case.
On the two-pill Plan B product, however, the three-judge panel refused the administration's request for a stay. It would not allow its move to over-the-counter to be delayed.
That meant two things. First, it was a signal that Justice would likely lose its appeal. Stays are typically granted when the appeals court sees a good chance for the challenger to ultimately prevail. In this case, the Second Circuit did not see that.
Second, the ruling meant that the two-pill Plan B product now had to move in front of the counter. According to the senior official, there was worry about the two-pill product proving too complex for young girls to use it properly. The newer Plan B One-Step, which contains a one-pill dosage of levonorgesterel, is easier to use, which the administration thought made it a safer over-the-counter product.
A federal judge had ordered the FDA to allow an emergency contraceptive to be sold over-the-counter and the odds didn't look good in moving forward with the challenge. The administration, according to this official, felt like it had two not so great options.
It could continue its relatively long-shot legal challenge while allowing a possibly complex medication to land on pharmacy shelves. Or, recognizing the long odds, it could drop the challenge and allow a simpler version of the product to become available to women and girls of all ages, without a prescription.