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The Torn Condom

Its not completely unlikely. You put your faith in a band of latex only 0.07 millimeters thick — the quest for a “natural feel” has whittled some condoms down to 0.05 — and hope that the thing holds up. But your protection can fail. In fact, two of every 100 condoms have broken in tests, and studies prove that Jimmy Hats fall off 5 percent of the time and “slip” 13 percent. If you’re a woman and you’ve ever found yourself in this position, talk about anticlimax. Panic, fear and dread take turns punching you in the solar plexus. Before 1999, maybe you said a few Hail Marys and prayed to the Lord, but after that year, women were given an alternative: Plan B, also referred to tenderly as “the morning-after pill” and available with a prescription in the United States. Plan B works to prevent pregnancy, not terminate it. But you need to get your hands on some within 72 hours or the emergency contraception won’t work. The problem is that many doctors don’t have weekend office hours. Even Planned Parenthood has a two-week wait list. And so Barr Laboratories, the company that makes it, asked the Food and Drug Administration in 2003 to allow the pill to be sold over the counter.Last year, an expert advisory board reviewed the medical and statistical data and decided 23-4 that the pill could be sold safely without a prescription. But the FDA sent the application back, seeking more information on how increased availability would affect teens. Barr recommended allowing nonprescription sales only to women over 17; younger teens would still need to see a doctor.Apparently still not satisfied, then–FDA Commissioner Lester M. Crawford in August indefinitely suspended any decision regarding Plan B. His announcement ignited a series of resignations, starting with that of Susan F. Wood, former assistant FDA commissioner for women’s health and director of the Office of Women’s Health. Wood, whose job description at the FDA was to “be a champion for women’s health,” stated in her letter of resignation last month: “I have spent the last 15 years working to ensure that science informs good health-policy decisions. I can no longer serve as staff when scientific and clinical evidence, fully evaluated and recommended for approval by the professional staff here, has been overruled.”In late September, Crawford handed in his own resignation, after just two months on the job. Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) had lifted a hold on Crawford’s Senate confirmation vote after he promised the Plan B debate would be settled by September 1. Clinton issued this statement: “The FDA has a real opportunity to restore its battered reputation and nominate a leader with vision and drive to ensure that the FDA upholds its gold standard of drug regulation.” In the meantime, President Bush asked Andrew von Eschenbach, director of the National Cancer Institute, to serve as acting commissioner.The resignations continue. Last Thursday, Dr. Frank Davidoff, a member of the FDA’s Nonprescription Drugs Advisory Committee, which voted to approve Plan B for nonprescription status back in 2003, resigned from his role as a consultant, saying, “There wasn’t any observable scientific or procedural reason for them to first decline and then further delay the decision. I had to make the inference this was a decision that was made on the basis of political pressure.” Plan B’s fate still waits in the wings. Until then, we can always dig out the prayer books.

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