Tvc, Unrepentant
Claims FDA's on its side in the drug-importation fight.


Ramesh Ponnuru

Last week, I wrote on NRO about the Traditional Values Coalition’s sleazy campaign against pro-life congressmen. The pharmaceutical lobby got TVC to mail out attacks on these congressmen for supporting a bill to allow Americans to import prescription drugs from Canada. The bill, according to TVC, would let 14-year-old girls order RU-486 over the Internet legally; it would make RU-486 “as easy to get as aspirin.” That claim is without foundation.

Now TVC has issued a letter to congressmen defending its position. The letter is disingenuous. The Rev. Lou Sheldon writes, “Because our system of government is based and fully relies upon grassroots involvement, we see nothing wrong with communicating with [churches and religious conservatives].” Of course, nobody has raised any objections to “communicating.” The problem with TVC’s communications is that they have been triply deceitful: They pretend that the importation bill would make RU-486 legal, they depict pro-life congressmen as enemies of the unborn, and they hide the pharmaceutical industry’s role in the campaign. Attached to Sheldon’s letter is a set of talking points that we now know were, in fact, written by a lawyer for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).

On TVC’s website, Sheldon claims that a letter from FDA commissioner Mark McClellan endorses his analysis of the importation bill’s effect on RU-486. (“FDA Weighs in on TVC’s Side” is how it’s flagged on the home page.) That’s not true. Here’s what McClellan’s letter says: “[The importation] legislation is particularly problematic as it relates to restricted distribution products that the Agency has placed under Import Alert because of particular risks to patients who might import them.” (RU-486 is one of the drugs on the import-alert list.) “Although these drugs have important benefits for many patients, they also have serious known risks and so are available in the U.S. only under specially crafted safety controls. . . . There is no reliable way to put these safety controls in place when these drugs are purchased from foreign sources, placing patients who use these drugs when they are received from foreign sources at a much higher risk of harm.”

Notice what the FDA is not saying. It is not saying that the importation bill makes it legal to disregard the regulations on RU-486, as TVC claimed. It is not saying that it would be legal for 14-year-olds to order RU-486 from the Internet, as TVC continues to insist. It is not saying that it would be legal for a prisoner to run a business distributing RU-486 from his jail cell, as PhRMA talking points also (bizarrely) claimed. All McClellan is saying is that the importation bill creates enforcement problems for regulations concerning all drugs, and that this is a particular problem for drugs on the import-alert list because there are special concerns about those drugs. (Which is why they’re on the list.)

As I mentioned above, Sheldon’s letter to congressmen comes with a set of PhRMA talking points (although, as usual, they are passed off as TVC’s own work). Sheldon continues to insist that the bill would make it legal for anyone to import RU-486 and that it would prohibit the FDA from taking any steps to ensure safety. These claims aren’t true, and the FDA letter does nothing to corroborate them.

TVC continues to say nothing about whether it has received financial support from PhRMA or its lobbyists, and nothing about PhRMA lawyers and lobbyists providing it with its lines.


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