A victory of science over politics? Or politics over science?
Either way, the Food and Drug Administration's decision to make the morning-after pill, or Plan B, available over-the-counter is unlikely to end the political fighting in Washington and across the country.
The decision came after a protracted delay that sparked one top FDA official to resign in protest and led two Democratic senators to put a hold on the Bush administration's nominee to head the agency. Those senators -- Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and Patty Murray, D-Wash. -- said today they would now allow Andrew von Eschenbach's nomination to go forward.
Democrats and liberal groups have proclaimed victory, despite expressing some disappointment with the fact that the decision still mandates a prescription for women under the age of 18.
But they are also continuing a line of attack that they believe resonates with the public -- accusing the Bush administration of putting politics ahead of sound science on issues ranging from global warming to stem cell research to the delay over Plan B.
"The president won't get any points for this decision," says Ted Miller of NARAL Pro-Choice America. "What it does for most Americans is remind them that his administration and his political appointees were the ones holding up the decision for more than three years."
Likewise, in a thank-you to her supporters, Clinton wrote, "This three-year effort to make one more reproductive health option available to American women is another reminder that we have to insist that policy decisions should be made on the basis of science, not ideology."
Surveys indicate the majority of Americans are likely to support the FDA's move. A Harris Interactive poll taken in June found that 58 percent of Americans agreed that the morning-after pill should be "easily available" in all pharmacies.
But conservative critics say the public isn't well informed about the science. "I don't think the public is fully aware of the risks of this drug," says Moira Gaul of the Family Research Council.
And while the decision could help the GOP win back some independent voters angry over President Bush's veto of a bill to expand federal funding for stem cell research, it is likely to alienate social conservatives, many of whom view the morning-after pill as a form of abortion.
Conservative Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., issued a stinging release accusing the FDA of "being hostage to special interest groups" when it comes to reproductive issues.
Both sides agree that the battle will likely now move to the courts and state legislatures. Nine states had already made Plan B available without a prescription to women of all ages; more conservative states may now try to impose new controls on the drug. Gaul says her organization is exploring "legislative and legal options" to fight the decision going forward.