This post is definitely brought to you by the letter B: B for birth control, Bush, broads, business, Barr, Barclay and Britain. I find it odd that so many progressive major blogs outside of feminist blogs have completely ignored the significance of the FDA’s approval of Plan B, an emergency contraceptive also known popularly as the “morning after” pill, for over the counter use.

Over 40 countries allow OTC access to emergency contraception. A vocal political minority of pro-lifers with the ear of the White House has prevented approval until just — now. Doesn’t anyone find it very strange that George Bush — a man who has put 2 pro-life justices on the Supreme Court — would suddenly turn around and allow OTC Plan B, a medication that many pro-life advocates consider to be a form of abortifacient?

I guess James Brown is right — it’s a man’s world after all and male bloggers don’t care. Whether they realize it yet or not, there are major long term ramifications for U.S. society here. We have one of the highest abortion rates in the world among industrialized nations. Plan B gives American women a new option in birth control and easier access to Plan B will likely result in lower abortion rates over time. It’s a little weird that Plan B will be just be there without a prescription perhaps tucked on the drug store shelf between the tampons and the Midol after easy access in some places only at Planned Parenthood clinics.

Access to a lower cost alternative to reproductive management is especially impactful for minority women. Poverty and ignorance tend to breed poor decisions and minorities remain disproportionately poor. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) (emphasis mine):

In the 41 areas for which race was adequately reported, approximately 55% of women who obtained legal induced abortions were known to be white, 35% were black, and 7% were of other races; for 3% of the women, race was unknown. [...] The abortion rate for black women (30 per 1,000 women) was 3.1 times the rate for white women (10 per 1,000 women), whereas the abortion rate for women of other races (22 per 1,000 women) was 2.2 times the rate for white women.

75% of women in the United States are white and yet they only account for 55% of the abortions? Pro-choice groups tend to skirt around the issue of the high abortion rate of minority women but pro-lifers have begun to use this as one of their talking points in part to attract socially conservative, Christian African-Americans to their cause. Abortion is a racist institution, they say, that preys upon vulnerable populations.

Certainly poor women have fewer choices in health care, especially to preventative care and to the insurance that can make prescription medications like the Pill more affordable. So a new low cost birth control option will likely have a major impact in African-American lives. So much for the long term.

Back to Bush, though, and the short term — why the sudden turnaround in fairly consistent-til-now pro-life policy? I think it boils down to business, Britain and broads. With Bush’s approval rating so low, he’s got to be desperate to appeal to a wider group of people, even if this means incurring the wrath of his hard-core ultra-conservative base. Approving Plan B is great for big business, especially Barr Labs, a major pharmaceutical company. Their share price has certainly moved in a positive direction since the announcement. Interestingly one of the largest shareholders (at 11%) of Barr is Barclays Global Investors UK Holdings Ltd, a British concern. So this decision makes both a few rich Americans and and rich Brits happy. Given the debacle in Iraq, it’s no wonder that Bush wouldn’t be looking for creative ways to appease our allies across the pond, short of stemming the bloodshed in Iraq.

Finally, there’s broads in general. This decision makes Bush look slightly more center-oriented and in touch with the general population. It looks like reasonable, rational, science-based public policy. As we all know, this is highly unusual for the Bush administration. Just in time for election season, Bush puts a new option on the table for American women even if he has expressed mixed messages about it himself.

He also faces potential lawsuits, anger and opposition from loyal conservative groups like Concerned Women for America who offer the weak argument that Plan B opens the door to sexual predators preying on teens. It will be interesting to see what other goodies and presents Bush has in store for Election 2006 and far he’ll be willing to bend his principles to boost his approval rating.

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