CBS Pumps Over-the-Counter 'Emergency Contraceptives'

Is making the “morning-after pill” available over the counter (OTC) a medical question, or is it simply politics?

During its August 12 broadcast, CBS Evening News made it clear they are all for OTC availability of the controversial “Plan B” drug, in spite of the medical risks and moral objections of many pharmacists. 

In a typical example of propaganda masquerading as reporting, CBS showcased a woman who explained her personal reasons why she needs access to the drug, as if presenting one emotionally-wrought case can form a credible argument for determining government policies that can affect millions of people.

Maureen Tkacik, a 27-year-old “professional blogger,” explained to CBS that she needed the pills because she had a “faulty condom issue and that resulted in [her] being worried because [she's] not on the birth control pill.”  She also stated that she doesn't “have a gynecologist that [she goes] to regularly so it's not an easy thing for [her] to get prescription drugs.”

CBS airily dismissed the morally-based objections of many pharmacists who point out that Plan B can cause abortion by preventing the implantation of a human embryo in the uterine wall.  The network cited Nancy Northup, an attorney and president of the Center for Reproductive Rights: “Emergency contraception is contraception.  It prevents pregnancy.  And there's no reason for pharmacists not to be providing contraceptives.” 

And what of the medical risks?  CBS News correspondent Nancy Cordes failed to explore the wisdom of allowing unsupervised use of the drug, which is a stronger version of contraceptives that require prescriptions for women of all ages.  Instead, Cordes reported that “Even advocates admit the current rules for Plan B are not perfect, forcing pharmacists to police their customers.”  Cordes implies it is an undue burden on pharmacists to check the IDs of women who purchase morning-after contraception, even when the FDA has approved OTC use of the drug only for women over the age of 18.  

CBS failed to consult medical experts in the piece, but the network did quote Charmaine Yoest, Vice President for Communications at the Family Research Council, about some of the medical concerns related to this drug. “The FDA doesn't know what the long-term consequences are of having women take the drug outside the parameters of the way it's prescribed, and so this is really gambling on women's health.” 

Colleen Raezler is a research assistant at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the MediaResearchCenter.