A physician who is an outspoken opponent of abortion will be reappointed to the Food and Drug Administration's advisory panel on reproductive drugs despite loud protests from abortion rights advocates in Congress and the women's health community.
W. David Hager, a Kentucky obstetrician and specialist on infectious diseases of pregnancy and childbirth, has been informed that the FDA wants him to serve at least one more year, said FDA spokesman Brad Stone.
"I'm honored to be considered for reappointment and I do intend to serve," said Hager, director of an obstetrics and gynecology training program at Central Baptist Hospital, which is affiliated with the University of Kentucky. "I believe that I offer the ability to objectively evaluate data and arrive at sound decisions based on that information."
The reappointment came as critics charged that Hager has no place on a science-based panel that advises the FDA because of his opposition to abortion and concerns about emergency contraception.
In a letter to President Bush, a bipartisan group of representatives who support abortion rights said Hager should not be reappointed to the FDA's reproductive health advisory committee because he has "allowed his personal views to overshadow his duty to both the FDA and the American people." Hager, an advocate of some forms of religious healing and a former spokesman for a group that petitioned the FDA to rescind its approval of the abortion pill RU-486, was appointed in 2002 over similar protests.
"Dr. Hager's blatant opposition to so many safe and legal options makes him unfit to serve on this key Advisory Committee," said the letter, signed by Reps. Louise M. Slaughter (D-N.Y.), Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), Nancy L. Johnson (R-Conn.) and James C. Greenwood (R-Pa.).
The letter also strongly criticized Hager for being one of four panel members who voted to recommend against approving non-prescription sales of the emergency contraceptive Plan B. The 24 other panel members favored over-the-counter sales, but the FDA subsequently turned down the application.
Hager has been a lightning rod for groups active in national debates over abortion and emergency contraception because of his opposition to abortion and his strong Christian beliefs. While he has written numerous articles for mainstream medical journals and some textbook chapters on reproductive issues, he has also authored several books that mix his medical and religious views. This background has made abortion rights groups sharply critical, but others see him as a hero.
"If I was in David Hager's shoes, I'm not at all sure I'd want to stay on that committee," said David Stevens, executive director of the Christian Medical Association, which petitioned the FDA to take RU-486 off the market.
"His character has been assassinated by pro-abortion groups and by the media," said Stevens, whose online biography says that he "helped develop an evangelism training program that teaches thousands of doctors and others how to share their faith" while practicing medicine.
"I would hope that he is reappointed because he is a man of science and a man of faith, and that's an important combination to have on one of these committees. Being an atheist or an agnostic shouldn't be a requirement to serve," Stevens said.
Hager was first appointed to the FDA's Advisory Committee for Reproductive Health Drugs as part of an entire restaffing of the panel. It was reported that the FDA's scientific staff opposed his appointment and that political appointees in the agency promoted his candidacy.
FDA advisory panels are influential because the agency generally follows their recommendations.
The application to make Plan B available over the counter was the first major recommendation that involved Hager. Despite the overwhelming vote of the advisory panel in favor of the application, the FDA decided in May that there was not enough information to approve it. Abortion rights proponents accused the FDA of allowing political considerations to overrule scientific assessment.
Scott Spear, national medical committee chairman of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said yesterday that someone with Hager's viewpoint does not belong on a science-based panel that advises the FDA.
"Dr. Hager's ideological agenda compromises the scientific integrity of the FDA," he said. "Americans rely on the FDA as a trusted and objective safeguard. When science comes second, public health suffers. President Bush should appoint an unbiased expert who values science above all."