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Pentagon to stock health facilities with morning-after pill

By Rob Stein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 5, 2010; 9:12 AM

The Department of Defense will begin making the morning-after pill Plan B available at all of its hospitals and health clinics around the world, officials announced Thursday.

The decision came after a recommendation by the Pentagon's Pharmacy and Therapeutics Committee, an advisory panel that voted in November to include Plan B and the generic Next Choice on the list of drugs all military facilities should stock. The Pentagon accepted the recommendation Feb. 3, a spokeswoman said.

The decision is the latest the Obama administration has made reversing politically sensitive policies involving women's health that were implemented during President George W. Bush's administration. Previously, the Obama administration has announced that it was rescinding a federal regulation that would have expanded the ability of health-care workers to refuse to provide medical care they found morally objectionable, including abortion and Plan B; has lifted federal restrictions on human embryonic stem cell research; and has restored funding to international family-planning groups.

Women's health advocates had long been pushing the Obama administration to allow the sale of the morning-after pill at military facilities. The same panel made a similar recommendation in 2002, but the policy was never implemented.

"It's a tragedy that women in uniform have been denied such basic health care," said Nancy Keenan of NARAL Pro-Choice America, which estimated that the decision would affect more than 350,000 women in the military. "We applaud the medical experts for standing up for military women."

The morning-after pills consist of higher doses of a hormone found in many standard birth-control pills. Taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, it has been shown to be highly effective at preventing pregnancy.

While most medical experts consider the drug to be a form of emergency contraception, some abortion opponents consider it equivalent to a surgical abortion.

"It can prevent the embryo from implanting and therefore destroy a human life," said Jeanne Monahan, director of the Center for Human Dignity at the Family Research Council. "Women serving in the military deserve to know the truth about their medications. Because this can be the difference between preventing and destroying life, a requirement to carry this drug could violate the conscience rights of military personnel who have moral objections."

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