Science and Plan B

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In his order reversing the Bush administration’s restrictions on federal funding of stem cell research earlier this month, President Obama received some undeserved criticism for minimizing the role of moral values in shaping science policy. Yes he did, in his signing statement, insist that promoting science “is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed
to serve a political agenda–and that we make scientific decisions
based on facts, not ideology.” But this came after his citing of the “difficult and delicate balance” involved, the moral objections of “thoughtful and decent people,” and the evident public consensus in favor of stem cell research. The president was not suggesting that science is just about facts separated from values.

And if anyone doubts that ideology and a political agenda were not at work in the Bush administration’s biomedical decisionmaking, I would suggest reading through yesterday’s decision on the Plan B “morning after pill” by U.S. District Judge Edward R. Korman, in which this Reagan-appointed jurist lays out (as he puts it) “the extent to which impermissible political and ideological considerations influenced the FDA’s decisions.”

Plaintiffs have presented unrebutted evidence of the FDA’s lack of good faith regarding its decisions on the Plan B switch applications. This lack of good faith is evidenced by, among other things, (1) repeated and unreasonable delays, pressure emanating from the White House, and the obvious connection between the confirmation process of two FDA Commissioners and the timing of the FDA’s decisions; and (2) significant departures from the FDA’s normal procedures and policies in the review of the Plan B switch applications as compared to the review of other switch applications in the past 10 years.

To be sure, the usual suspects have sought to turn tables on the decision. Thus, the Family Research Council declared, “This ruling jeopardizes girls’ health and the ability of parents to
care for their daughters’ physical and emotional well-being. Judge
Korman has accepted lock, stock, and barrel all of the claims of a
political ideology promoting sexual license for teens.” But there’s no question that the Bushies ran roughshod over longstanding FDA policies and procedures in order to limit Plan B’s availability. And that they had no legal right to do so.