The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors last month voted to sweep so-called morning-after pills from the shelves of county clinics, an action that will test just what limits on reproductive rights the Bush administration will allow.
The move came despite the fact that the two drugs at issue are licensed for use by the federal Food and Drug Administration and have been used in San Bernardino's 12 publicly funded clinics for the past three years.
The county wants permission to continue to receive federal funding for its clinics, even though low-income women and teenage girls would be denied safe and effective options for preventing pregnancy that are readily available to those who can afford private medical care. Emergency contraception simply prevents either ovulation or implantation of the egg in the uterus. There's no pregnancy without implantation.
Out of 23,000 men and women who sought contraceptive services at San Bernardino's public clinics last year, only 170 women got the morning-after pill. But for those, the pill can prevent the wrenching choices that result from an unwanted pregnancy.
The board's objections center on the requirement, rooted in state law, that clinic doctors treat teenagers and cannot insist on parental knowledge or consent. Federal rules bind local public health officials to provide treatment consistent with state law, and California teens may confidentially receive a wide variety of reproductive services.
The supervisors' pernicious response is to withhold emergency contraception from everyone. Their petition is an open invitation for other counties and states receiving federal funds to pick and choose the reproductive services they wish to provide, leaving poor, often desperate women with increasingly fewer options.
San Bernardino's petition now rests with the California Family Health Council, a nonprofit organization that distributes federal money to county clinics in the state. We urge the council to deny the waiver request as a dangerous assault on reproductive freedom.