by Steven Ertelt
December 8, 2006
Washington, DC (LifeNews.com) — The Senate approved the nomination of Andrew von Eschenbach to become the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration after a handful of senators dropped their objection to a vote on his nomination, including one who was upset at the agency’s handling of the deaths of eight women from the abortion drug.
Von Eschenbach, the former director of the National Cancer Institute, had been serving as acting FDA chief since September 2005, when Lester Crawford resigned over personal issues.
The Senate voted 80-11 to approve the nomination after first voting 89-6 to end debate on it.
His confirmation had been on hold since September — first over the FDA’s delay in approving over the counter sales of the morning after pill but also because of the dangerous abortion drug.
Sen. Jim DeMint, a pro-life South Carolina Republican, pledged to prevent a vote on von Eschenbach’s nomination earlier this year unless the FDA took "immediate steps" to remove the mifepristone abortion pill from the market.
According to FDA reports, there have now been eight known deaths associated with RU 486, nine life-threatening incidents, 116 blood transfusions, and 232 hospitalizations. In total, more than 1,050 women have had medical problems after using the drug.
But, DeMint said Thursday morning he spoke with von Eschenbach about the drug. IN a statement provided to LifeNews.com, he said he wouldn’t vote for the nominee but said he would lift his hold and allow a vote to proceed.
“I recently met with Dr. von Eschenbach and he answered my questions about RU-486," he said in a statement given to LifeNews.com. "Now that he’s provided me with this information, I will not object to consideration of his nomination."
Yet, DeMint said he wouldn’t support von Eschenbach despite their conversation.
"I will not support his nomination. A qualified FDA nominee would publicly discourage the use of RU-486 and take immediate steps to suspend the drug until a full investigation can be completed," DeMint said.
"Dr. von Eschenbach has been the acting FDA commissioner for over a year but he has done nothing to publicly discourage the use of this deadly drug," he added.
Joining DeMint in opposing von Eschenbach’s nomination were a variety of other senators including pro-life Sens. Sam Brownback, a possible presidential candidate, Rick Santorum and others as well as pro-abortion Sens. Max Baucus and Olympia Snowe.
During his conversation with DeMint, Von Eschenbach did not make any guarantees about additional actions the FDA might take to remove the abortion drug form the market or whether it would take additional measures apart from its severe black box warning to tell women of the risks associated with using it.
Abortion advocates have also complained about his performance saying he wrongly delayed a decision on selling the morning after pills over the counter, without a prescription.
A Senate committee approved his nomination in September but three lawmakers held it up after that.
DeMint’s hold came after abortion advocates lifted theirs.
Sen. Hillary Clinton, a New York Democrat, and Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington both placed holds on von Eschebanch’s nomination because of the FDA’s delay in approving non-prescription sales of the Plan B drug. With a new deal the agency reached with Barr Laboratories in August to sell the drug to anyone over the age of 18, the two reversed their positions.
One leading doctor familiar with the abortion drug agreed with DeMint that more should be done in response to the abortion drug injuring women.
Dr. James McGregor, an obstetrics professor at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, told an FDA panel earlier this year that the problems are sufficient to warrant limiting the use of the abortion drug or pulling it from the market entirely.
"I recommend we reduce or eliminate mifepristone, or at least consider that," McGregor said.