Looking for the Less-Obvious on Plan B

Acting FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach's decision, supported by President Bush, to approve Plan B for over-the-counter (OTC) status for women over 18 was a political decision. The question is not whether it was politically motivated, but what kind of political motivations were at play here.

I don't think this decision should be too quickly underestimated as political caving toward either direction. With today's decision, the FDA has crafted a unique policy that will for the first time permit a drug to be distributed with separate rules for different age groups. It's a decision that neither side of the debate is excited about: social conservatives don't like that it was approved at all, and reproductive health advocates are upset that the approval was made arbitrarily for a certain age group, irrespective of the science. Both sides are upset. In the search for an answer about motives, aren't we supposed to first discern who benefits?

Discovering the Obvious on Plan B

The progression of getting to today's decision to make Plan B available from pharmacists without a prescription is somewhat circular - in many ways ending up where it began. It goes something like this:


In the battle of ideology v. reality, check one victory box for reality, the FDA today approved Plan B Emergency Contraception for over-the-counter distribution to women 18 and older with a valid government issued identification to prove age.

Socially conservative ideologues showed their true colors on this issue, delaying and disparaging scientific evidence showing Plan B's efficacy for more than three years. But even the staunchest of ideologues could not buttress the Bush Administration against the overwhelming tide of scientifc evidence, and public opinion, that showed Plan B should be available to women and families wishing to avoid an unplanned pregnancy, and thus further reducing the rate of abortion.

Why South Africans Protest Our Government’s AIDS Policies

Nathan Geffen is Policy Co-coordinator for the Treatment Action Coaltion.

Editorial Note: Rewire often highlights the important linkages between HIV/AIDS and Reproductive Health. We publish this post today in coordination with TAC's global day of action to pressure the South African government to change its HIV policies. Read below to learn more.

Masizole (* name changed) died of AIDS in August. He was an inmate at Durban's Westville Prison in South Africa and one of over 100 prisoners at this facility who died of AIDS in the last year. Prisoners don't have much respect in South Africa. Public concern about high levels of crime and violence render them the most scorned class in our society.

Nevertheless, Masizole spent his last few months trying to assert his dignity. He was one of 15 prisoners who, together with the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and represented by the AIDS Law Project, applied to the country's court system to compel the Departments of Health and Correctional Services to provide life-saving antiretroviral treatment to prisoners with AIDS. Last month the court ruled in Masizole's favour, but not in time for him. He needed to be on treatment last year already.

Sen. Barack Obama Takes HIV Test in Solidarity With Treatment Action Campaign’s Global Action

Senator Barack Obama (IL), traveling in Africa as part of a Congressional Delegation, will take a test for HIV and allow cameras to record it on his stop in Kenya. This bold public move is intended to encourage men to get tested and as he said, "take responsibility for their safe sex practices." He announced he would do this from the headquarters of the Treatment Action Campaign in South Africa, who today have mobilized a global action to encourage real change in policies in that country.

"Now, more than ever, we must care about each other's problems," Obama said, speaking to a think-tank audience of more than 200 people. "Not just when there's a missile pointed at us or a dictator on the march, but wherever conditions exist that could give rise to human suffering on a massive scale."

He also criticized the South African government for its failure to address the AIDS crisis realisitically, saying, "The information being provided by the ministry of health is not accurate," Obama said. "It's not scientifically correct."

Delivering on the Promise of the International AIDS Conference

Congresswoman Barbara Lee co-authored legislation establishing PEPFAR in 2003, and was the lead author of the Global AIDS and Tuberculosis Relief Act of 2000 which helped establish the Global Fund. Most recently, Congress passed and President Bush signed into law legislation authored by Lee to focus foreign assistance for children orphaned and made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS. She has represented California's ninth Congressional District since 1998.

Last week I had the opportunity to participate in the XVI International AIDS Conference in Toronto, Canada. This was my fourth such conference since I was elected to Congress in 1998, and like many conferences before this one I was again impressed by the diversity of people, approaches, and issues that were raised.

I was specifically in town to speak on two issues that are really important to me: the HIV/AIDS crisis in Black America, and the increasing vulnerability of women and girls to this disease.

AIDS is devastating the African American community. According to the Centers for Disease Control African Americans now make up more than 50% of all new HIV/AIDS cases diagnosed each year. As Julian Bond the chairman of the NAACP made clear in this recent op-ed in the Washington Post "AIDS is now in our house. It's now our problem, and we must come up with solutions."

As part of a series of events at the conference with the Black AIDS Institute and prominent African American leaders, we announced a "National Call to Action and Declaration of Commitment to End the AIDS Epidemic in Black America."

Everyone has a role to play in stopping this disease, and that is a responsibility I take seriously in approaching my work in Congress.

The Anti-Breast Brigade

Forgive me for bringing up old news, since the following nonsense broke a few weeks ago--but it's just too outrageous, and too indicative of a whole bunch of disturbing cultural trends, not to mention here. Take a look at this photo, which appeared on the August 2006 cover of the free parenting magazine Babytalk:

[img_assist|nid=506|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=91|height=100]Now take a look at the reactions it inspired, culled from 700 angry letters and some media follow-up:

"I immediately turned the magazine face down."


"I shredded it. A breast is a breast--it's a sexual thing. [My 13-year-old son] didn't need to see that."

"I don't want my son or husband to accidentally see a breast they didn't want to see."

Is it wrong for me to bring up Janet Jackson and John Ashcroft here? Because what I really want to say about all of this is: When did America decide that women's breasts were disgusting objects? Breasts are among the first things that most of us, as human beings, have an opportunity to see and touch and taste. They are warm and soft and nurturing and life-sustaining. They feel nice. And yes, they can be erotic, which does not, by the way, make them GROSS. Furthermore, half of us have them attached to our bodies. Are we supposed to be grossed out by ourselves?

Making the Connection II: Gender-based Violence and HIV

Maria de Bruyn is the Senior Policy Advisor for Ipas.

"Gender-based violence and HIV: making the connection" was the theme for an evening satellite meeting convened by the International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS (ICW) and the ATHENA Network. Chairs Sofia Gruskin of Harvard University and Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland now with the Ethical Globalization Initiative, invited panelists from Africa, North America and Latin America to speak about intersections between gender-based violence (GBV) and HIV. Other delegates then offered information on approaches they used, challenges they faced and ideas about how to move forward.

Awino Okech (Mother Tongue, South Africa) called on those present not only to address HIV infection resulting from domestic and sexual violence, but also violence in response to women's voluntary or involuntary disclosure of their positive HIV status. She also asked for honesty in addressing the fact that some women become positive because they, like men, choose to have extramarital relations; a focus on sexuality needs to be added to our analyses.

More Like Plan V…

This must be plan V... or at least plan P for the Bush administration.

After repeatedly politicizing emergency contraception, pressuring the FDA into going against recommendations by their own scientists, and trying in vain to establish Andrew von Eschenbach's independence, Bush finally decided to try something different. During Monday morning's press conference, Bush stated:

"I believe that Plan B ought to be -- ought to require a prescription for minors, is what I believe. And I support Andy's decision."

Wait - did I just hear that correctly? Listen to that little space between what he said... right there - the part where he implied Plan B ought not to require a prescription for adults.

Desperately Seeking Condoms in Toronto

Naina Dhingra is the Director of International Policy at Advocates for Youth and serves on the Developed Country NGO Board Delegation of the Global Fund.

Throughout the International AIDS Conference, I've repeatedly heard about how the U.S. government is the largest buyer of condoms. Yet, at the same time, youth and people from PEPFAR countries kept telling me that, back home, access to condoms is a major issue. So where exactly are the condoms? Well, after a week at the conference in Toronto, I've decided that all the condoms are clearly right here. Over the week, I've amassed a sizable collection of at least 75 different types of condoms in all different colors and packaging. My favorites have been the goodies from UNFPA and MTV. UNFPA packaged a male and female condom together in brightly colored pouches usually used to carry jewelry. The MTV Staying Alive initiative packaged them in pocket containers, like the kind that carry mints, and gave them out at last night's premier party of their 48fest films - their project where young people were given cameras to develop films about AIDS in 48 hours.

So what seems to be the issue? If hundreds of thousand of condoms can get to Toronto, why aren't they getting to young people in PEPFAR countries? Is the U.S. government so stuck on the myth that condoms will actually cause young people to have sex?