Fox's Attack On FDA's Emergency Contraception Decision Ignores Facts

Rush Limbaugh Praises The Misleading Segment

Fox News and Rush Limbaugh are teaming up to demonize the Food and Drug Administration's decision to lower the age requirement for access to over-the-counter emergency contraception, ignoring both the science behind the drug and the FDA's assessment that younger women can handle the responsibility of taking the medication.

This week, the FDA approved the sale of Plan B emergency contraception without a prescription for females 15 years of age and older. Previously, Plan B was only available to women over the age of 17.

On America's Newsroom, Fox's senior managing editor for health news, Dr. Manny Alvarez, attacked the FDA's decision to allow 15-year-olds to purchase the medication. He claimed emergency contraception decisions should be left up to the parents because, “Since when is a 15-year-old child a woman? Now give me a break.”

Alvarez went on to claim that a 15-year-old is unable to understand the possible side effects of Plan B. Host Martha MacCallum stated, “Look at the list of warnings on this thing,” prompting Alvarez to argue:

It reads like the Constitution. There's so many, you know, possibilities, probabilities, percentages. You're going to tell me a 15-year-old girl -- and who could even buy it and give it to a 14-year-old or 13-year-old -- is going to understand all the potential side effects? And what they should do after if they have any of the symptoms?

Later, MacCallum fearmongered over whether Plan B could result in long-term fertility problems, wondering, “Who knows what the long-lasting implications of using it in that way are? When this girl decides she wants to have a baby a few years down the road?” Alvarez did not take the bait, telling MacCallum: “I'm not arguing that this has some mild to moderate side effects -- not terrible side effects.”

Aside from the fact that the “children” seeking emergency contraception are of reproductive age, Alvarez's allegations have been explicitly discredited by FDA research. The agency conclusively determined that a 15-year-old is able to understand the side effects and consequences of Plan B after conducting research on this question when determining whether to make the drug available to this age group without a prescription. FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg, MD explained (emphasis added):

The Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) completed its review of the Plan B One-Step application and laid out its scientific determination. CDER carefully considered whether younger females were able to understand how to use Plan B One-Step.  Based on the information submitted to the agency, CDER determined that the product was safe and effective in adolescent females, that adolescent females understood the product was not for routine use, and that the product would not protect them against sexually transmitted diseases. Additionally, the data supported a finding that adolescent females could use Plan B One-Step properly without the intervention of a healthcare provider.

Despite MacCallum's claims to the contrary, Plan B has not been shown to impact later pregnancies. A Princeton University study on emergency contraception determined: “Available evidence suggests that ECPs do not increase the chance that a pregnancy following ECP use will be ectopic.” This is because Plan B inhibits only the current ovulation cycle, as NPR explained: "[A]t least when it comes to Plan B, there is now fairly definitive research that shows the only way it works is by preventing ovulation, and therefore, fertilization ... [A] study published just last year led the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics to declare that Plan B does not inhibit implantation."

Fox's misleading segment received fervent praise from radio host Rush Limbaugh, who asserted that “the left” wants emergency contraception available to younger women in order “to bust up the traditional notion of what is a family.”

Fox's coverage of the FDA's decision is nothing new -- the network has a long history of misleading viewers on reproductive health issues.