Can the FDA set aside the scientific evidence on drug safety for purely political reasons? A court decision Friday specifically overturned arbitrary age restrictions on the “morning-after pill,” but the ruling also has wider implications.
In 2011 the FDA, in a bizarre directive drafted by the HHS secretary presumably on orders from the White House, ordered age restrictions on levonorgestrel. There was not the slightest evidence that the 72-hour constraceptive drug was more dangerous or less effective for one age group than for another. The age restrictions were intended to have two effects: to force purchasers of all ages to show personal identification in order to strip away their privacy in making the purchase, and to prevent sales online. Possibly a third effect was intended: to make the drug less effective by delaying its purchase. By making it more difficult for consumers to obtain levonorgestrel, the White House intended to force hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable women in the country, but especially school-age girls, into unwanted and otherwise avoidable pregnancies.
If you are thinking, “What a terrible idea!” you are not alone. This kind of law is an example of class warfare, and it is the nature of class warfare that the majority of people are targets. When enacted, the new restrictions on levonorgestrel were hardly a surprise, as rules restricting contraception have been a staple in class warfare for at least a century. In this connection, contraceptives are no different from unemployment compensation or food safety inspections. There are multiple hidden agendas at work in the efforts to prevent family planning, but the main political objective is to keep the masses of ordinary people off balance in their personal lives, continually facing stress and other barriers to action. If the majority of people are kept powerless, the rich and powerful can continue to rule the world as they see fit. This, it is safe to assume, was what the White House had in mind when it ordered the restrictions on levonorgestrel.
I think the court recognized this hidden agenda when it ruled that the FDA’s specific restrictions on the drug were arbitrary and unreasonable. The judge wrote, correctly, that the age restriction was a burden on “the overwhelming majority of women,” not just those who directly faced obstacles in purchasing contraceptives. After all, the mere possibility of an administrative obstacle in a crisis situation presents a burden. In U.S. law, laws that are too arbitrary are considered unconstitutional precisely because there may be a hidden agenda (or an unintended consequence) that sets one class of people against another.
The decision is important in its own right, but also because the same logic could apply the next time the White House thinks about using the FDA as an agent in class warfare. Perhaps there is reason to hope that the use of drugs and their regulation to keep people from controlling their own lives may not run much longer.