Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and Patty Murray (D-WA) announced that they will block the confirmation of Lester Crawford, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner nominee, until a decision is made on granting over-the-counter status to emergency contraception (EC). Crawford, who is currently serving as acting commissioner of the FDA, indicated at a confirmation hearing last month that the FDA will approve over-the-counter status for EC. However, in a meeting with Senators Murray and Clinton yesterday, Crawford would not commit to when the FDA will resolve the issue of over-the-counter (OTC) status for Plan B, a brand of emergency contraceptive produced by Barr Laboratories.
“I’m prepared to hold [the block] for as long as it takes to get a decision made,” Clinton said, according to the New York Times. “From everything we’re able to determine, the agency has substituted politics and ideology for science and facts.” Senator Murray said, “I have always supported a strong and independent FDA, but by ignoring sound science, they have jeopardized public confidence and the health of American women. This is too important a decision to be endlessly delayed for ideological reasons.” Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) joined Clinton and Murray in their concerns with Laura Capps, his spokesperson, telling the New York Times that until the issue of EC OTC is settled, Kennedy “believes it’s doubtful that Dr. Crawford can be confirmed.”
The FDA previously gave a not-approvable letter to Barr Laboratories in response to its request to make Plan B available over-the-counter (OTC), in spite of two expert advisory panels that voted 23 to 4 to recommend its availability in December 2003. To comply with the conditions under which the FDA would approve EC OTC, Barr resubmitted its application with age limitations on OTC status – women 16 and older would be able to access Plan B over-the-counter, and girls aged 15 and younger would still only be able to obtain Plan B with a prescription. The FDA missed its January 21, 2005 deadline to make a decision.
According to Reuters, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee is expected to confirm Crawford’s nomination April 13; however Clinton and Murray will still have the power to block a full Senate vote.