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American Morning

Non-Prescription Morning-After Pill Approved; Syria Threatens to Close Lebanese Border if U.N. Force Deployed; The End of the SAT?

Aired August 24, 2006 - 09:30   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Getting this word just in, federal health officials are approving the sale of the so-called morning-after pill without a prescription. It's only available to women who are 18 years or older.
CNN's senior medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is with us. Good morning.


You know, this has gone back and forth so many times. They were going to approve it, the advisory committee recommended that they do so, then there was not going to be an approval. This has been going back and forth. What is it exactly we're talking about? Plan B, how does it work?


GUPTA (voice-over): Commonly referred to as the morning-after pill. Plan B was first approved for prescription use in the United States in 1999. Since then, effectiveness, relatively low side effects and ease of use have made it the most common form of emergency contraception.

On average, most women have an 8 percent chance they will become pregnant after having unprotected intercourse. If taken within 72 hours, though, Plan B can lower that chance to 1 percent.

Here's how it works. Plan B contains high doses of progesterone. That's a birth control hormone that tells the brain not to ovulate or release an egg. Now, if ovulation has already happened when the pill is taken, the hormone works to prevent fertilization by making it harder for the sperm to penetrate the egg. And if fertilization has already occurred, then both doctors believe the morning-after pill can prevent the fertilized egg from ever attaching to the wall of the uterus.

Misconceptions about Plan B have driven the controversy surrounding this drug. Some believe that it could cause birth defects if the pregnancy develops, or even cause an abortion. Others believe that no such thing could occur, because Plan B prevents the fertilized egg from attaching to the uterine wall.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Taking the morning-after pill definitely does not harm an established pregnancy. It doesn't cause birth defects. It doesn't cause abortions of implanted, healthy pregnancies. GUPTA: In fact, when a pregnancy occurs, hormones in a women's body change dramatically, and suddenly the body is awash in progesterone. Plan B would simply add more.

Another misconception is to confuse Plan B with the RU-486, the abortion pill. Even doctor's offices can mistake the difference. Malena Garcia (ph) wanted to prevent pregnancy, and as most people would, called her doctor's office for a prescription.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So I called and I said, hi, I need to make an appointment to just come in and get a prescription for the morning- after pill. And the receptionist said, oh, we don't have that. No, no, no. Not RU-486, I want emergency contraception, I want the morning-after pill.

GUPTA: In fact, the two drugs work in literally opposite ways. Instead of increasing progesterone levels the way Plan B does, RU-486 lowers progesterone levels, inducing menstruation and the loss of an early pregnancy.

Other questions about Plan B don't have such clear-cut answers. Opponents argue widespread access will encourage irresponsible sexual behavior among young people, and increase sexually transmitted diseases. Two large studies have not supported those claims.

And now, approved for over-the-counter use or not, that controversy is likely to continue.


GUPTA: And just to be clear again. RU-486 and Plan B work in very different ways. And this is an important point. You know, one increases the progesterone, actually stimulating menstruation, and one prevents it from happening at all in the first place. It's a confusing point, but I think it's an important point for people who are trying to distinguish the two.

O'BRIEN: Yes, I think that's really true. So what kind of impact do you think does this ruling, this decision by the FDA, have?

GUPTA: Well, you know, it's interesting, because there's been all sorts of different calculations on how many women might be impacted by this. We're talking about 18 years old and older without a prescription. They think there are about 3 million -- and I'm choosing my words carefully here -- unintended pregnancies a year. They think they'll probably reduce that by about half, so maybe 1.5 million.

Again, this is speculation. It depends how many people are actually going to use the pill, how many people know about it and, you know...

O'BRIEN: And how available it is. I mean, you heard the woman in the piece say that she even was trying to explain it to a medical professional. GUPTA: Her pharmacist, right, and they still didn't exactly know. But, you know, I think that most women advocacy groups and a lot of other groups are saying this is a decent compromise.

O'BRIEN: All right, interesting. And breaking news this morning. Thanks, Sanjay.

GUPTA: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Appreciate it -- Tony.

TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And we are following new tensions in the Middle East this morning. Syria is threatening to close its border with Lebanon if U.N. peacekeepers are deployed there. Syrian president Bashar Assad says the U.N. deployment would be seen as a hostile move.

CNN's Anthony Mills is in Beirut. Anthony, good morning.


Earlier today, I spoke to some high-ranking government officials here to get their response, really, to that threat. And they said, first off, that the Syrian president had absolutely no right to interfere with what they called a decision by a sovereign state to protect its sovereignty, notably to deploy along its border, to ensure there was no smuggling. They stressed the term smuggling. And that that really was a sovereign right of Lebanon and that Syria has no right to interfere with that.

They then went on to stress, though, that so far, there has been no Lebanese government decision to deploy troops along that border. They said that the U.N. Resolution 1701, which ended the fighting here between Lebanon and Israel, say that it is up to the Lebanese government to ask UNIFIL or not to deploy along that border or to assist it in securing its border. So there's no order in that resolution for the United Nations forces to be on that border.

The problem with all of this is that Israel has said that really that border needs to be secured and is likely to be skeptical of suggestions that the Lebanese army alone can do it. So, really, the Lebanese government in a tough spot here. If they deploy those international forces along that border, they incur the wrath of Syria. And if they don't, they're likely to incur the wrath of Israel.

HARRIS: All right, Anthony, it might sound like a silly question, but if the peacekeepers are on the Lebanese side of the border in Lebanon, what's the big issue here?

MILLS: Well, much speculation as to what exactly that would be, but quite frankly, the Syrian president is likely to see the presence of international peacekeepers, especially if they are on friendly terms with the United States, for example, as being a threat to Syria. They'd be right on the border, and of course, the border is not very far at all, even from the Syrian capital Damascus. So if you've got, for example, Italian troops on that border or any other European troops who get on well with the United States and Britain who won't actually be represented in the force, that would be perceived, no doubt, by Syria as a threat.

Now, speculators would say that if they do indeed secure that border, they do make it more difficult for rockets, for example, to cross that border. And since it is long been alleged that Syria serves as a transit point on that route from Iran, let's say, then theoretically, at least, it would be easier to smuggle weapons through with a weak Lebanese army on that border than with international troops on it.

HARRIS: Gotcha. OK. CNN's Anthony Mills in Beirut for us. Anthony, thank you.


O'BRIEN: The SAT, the ACT, their dreaded ritual for high school seniors. Well now, George Mason in Virginia is offering a little relief, letting students apply without having to submit test scores. Joining us this morning is Andrew Flagel. He us is the dean of admission at George Mason. Alex Kingsbury is from "U.S. News and World Report."

Gentlemen, nice to talk to both of you.

Let's begin with you, if I can, dean, why, what was the reason and rationale behind dropping the SAT requirement for some of the students who are applying to George Mason.

ANDREW FLAGEL, GEORGE MASON UNIV.: Well, you know, the challenge for every college and university is to select the students who are best suited for that institution. We spent three years looking carefully at our admission process and how students performed once they got into our institution, and we found that for students with very strong academic records, the SAT really wasn't telling us anything. So we decided to create a process that represented better to the students what we were really going to look and allowed students who didn't wish to submit those scores to bypass that if they had appropriate records.

O'BRIEN: So is the SAT then a good indicator of how a student is going to do if in fact they are not academically strong, 3.5 GPA and below. I mean, why not just drop it for everybody if it's not a good indicator?

FLAGEL: Well, what we found at Mason is for students with a strong GPA, with strong academic courses, that it wasn't a strong indicator at all. In fact, in a few cases it was actually a contraindicator.

But we did find for students with records that weren't as strong, that the score could sometimes give us some more information, particularly stronger scores, from students with not as strong records, maybe an indicator that they have some potential, and it gives us an opportunity to look at those student as little more closely. O'BRIEN: Alex give me sense if you think this trend is going to be a trend that we see elsewhere?

ALEX KINGSBURY, "U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT": Well, I think it is a trend we're seeing elsewhere. There's a list of about 700 schools, more than 700 actually, around the country that don't accept or accept in varying degrees the SAT. So I think what we are see is definitely a move to reallocate the weight that the SAT gets in the admission process, and we're seeing that in a lot schools.

O'BRIEN: How is that going to affect the rating that a school gets? Whether it's in a magazine? I mean, obviously SAT Scores are always factored in and play a role in that rating -- Alex.

KINGSBURY: Well, it is one of the pieces of information that is taken into account in ranking such as the "Best Colleges Guide" from "U.S. News & World Report." But it a smallish percentage of the overall total, and it's also something that if a school has more than 50 percent of its students submitting an SAT Score then it's taken in anyway.

So schools that drop the SAT, even as a requirement for all students, are still going to be ranked in the same way, for our magazine, at least.

O'BRIEN: Dean Flagel, clarify something for me -- if you're a student who has a 3.5 GPA and higher everybody knows an 'A' at one high school could be very different really from an 'A; at another high school. They could be totally, completely different. How are you going to gauge the differences and the value? Isn't a standardized test, the whole point was to kind of level the playing field between different schools in different parts of the country, socioeconomic differences, too?

FLAGEL: You know, Soledad, it's an interesting case. The SAT was actually originally created to help prove that students from public schools could do as well as students from private schools.

But over the years what we found is, at least for those of us at George Mason had increasingly competitive application pools, it's not telling us as much as we like, and so we need to get to know the schools well. We need to look very closely at the courses the students take. Need to look at the essay and recommendations and the other information the students submit. That's the requirement we face. It would be great if the test was giving us that information about who was the most qualified student. Since it's not, we find that it's misrepresenting it to have students think there's so much emphasis on the test.

O'BRIEN: Alex, I'm going to give you the final word this morning. OK, I'm a student, I've heard that; I say, great, I don't need to take the SAT.

KINGSBURY: Well, it's not quite that easy, and I think what this development and this trend is telling us is that college admissions officers are being very honest when they say from the outset of the process that a holistic process. Look at a whole variety of different factors that go into the decision, and just be honest and be yourself, and I think that that comes through in the admissions process once all the factors are taken into account.

FLAGEL: Absolutely.

O'BRIEN: All right. Gentlemen, Andrew Flagel, the dean of admissions of George Mason University, and also Alex Kingsbury. He's from "U.S. News and World Report." Thanks for talking with us this morning.

FLAGEL: Thank you, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Appreciate it.


O'BRIEN: Coming up this morning, another one bites the dust. The iPod knocks off one of its competitors. We'll tell you what happened and how as we mind your business coming up.

And then next, we're going to we meet two guys on a joyride and kind of on a mission, too, to ride each and every inch of the New York City subway system. Why? They're going to tell us when they join us up next on AMERICAN MORNING.

Stay with us.


HARRIS: You know, some people climb mountains, others jump from planes; Don Badaczewski and Matt Green, well, they ride subway friends. The two friends set out Wednesday morning to complete the fastest trip ever through the New York City subway system. Their goal was to beat the record -- who knew there was a record? -- set in 1998, 468 subway stations in less than 25 hours, 11 minutes. This morning Don and Matt join us as champions of the underworld.

Good to see you both.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, how are you?

HARRIS: So you started out as friends; did you end this as friends?


HARRIS: Just barely?


HARRIS: So what was the toughest part of this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think our least favorite part was, you know, after we finished it all and we were followed to the first bathroom trip by some cameramen. You know, we couldn't get away from them at all.

HARRIS: I got to -- so who comes up with this idea? You guys are friends for how long? What did you go to school together in college?


HARRIS: So who comes up with the idea, hey, why don't we do this with the summer vacation?

MATT GREEN, SUBWAY RIDER: That was this genius.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I guess I just...

HARRIS: Don? What were you thinking?

DONALD BADACZEWSKI, RECORD SUBWAY RIDER: You know, I like reading about the subway, and I knew Matt did, too. So one day popped it just kind of popped into my head, and Matt immediately commentated it was one of the worst ideas he ever heard, so of course went along wit.

HARRIS: So why did you go along?

GREEN: Well, you know, you got to do something.

HARRIS: Oh, man. So, OK, so give us a sense. So you started out on this. Logistically, I would imagine, it's a bit of a nightmare to try to figure out how you're going to accomplish this. Matt, tell us how you figured this out?

GREEN: Well, you know, We had several main criteria in selecting our route. Obviously, we wanted to minimize the number of transfers we were making. We wanted to minimize the amount of track we have to double up on. We tried to minimize the number of times we crossed the East Rivers. That's kind of a disproportionately large amount of time between two stations.

HARRIS: Right.

GREEN: And then the trickiest part was, we had to wait for the weekend before we did it to read the MTA service advisories for this week so we could see if we could fit our routes around that. And we had to modify them on the fly.

HARRIS: Did you -- Don, did you get on express trains or did stop at every -- did you take all the local trains and stop at every stop?

BADACZEWSKI: No, we just had to pass through the stations. So we tried to stay on the express trains as much as possible.

HARRIS: So, I don't know, is that legit? Do you have to stop? I should ask the room. Is that legit if you don't have to stop?

GREEN: I mean, anyone could do that, but we didn't. HARRIS: So where is my engineer? One of you is the engineer.

GREEN: That's me.

HARRIS: Transportation engineer?

GREEN: Mmm hmm.

HARRIS: So I'm hoping there was some research value in all of this for you. Was there any at all?

BADACZEWSKI: Hopefully this will advance my career greatly. That's what I'm expecting.

HARRIS: So what's the high point? Don, I'm not going to ask you yet. I'm going to save that for the final moment here. But what was the high point of this?

BADACZEWSKI: One of the things I really liked was the people on the subway. You know, some people would recognize us. Our picture had been in the paper. And just everyone who talked to us about it was really supportive and it kind of felt like they were pulling for us and I was doing it for them almost as much as myself.

HARRIS: What's the line here. If you see us and yell at us, you will win what, Matt?

GREEN: You will win a stick of beef jerky. It turns out that several people who recognized us wanted to have nothing to do with the beef jerky we offered them. They wouldn't even touch it, so.

HARRIS: Was that -- Don, was that sustenance on the trip? Was it beef jerky all the way?

BADACZEWSKI: Mostly what we had was just water to keep us full. We didn't want to consume too much, because I mean, there's not a lot of bathrooms in the subway.

HARRIS: Yes, got to ask you, would you do it again?

HARRIS: No, I've done it once, and that's enough for any person.

GREEN: Yes, I think we have to let our state of mind reset and get some sleep before we could even think about answering that question.

HARRIS: OK, did you set the record? Twenty-five hours, 11 minutes. Did you set a new record?

BADACZEWSKI: For that, I mean, you can ride the subway any one of a hundred different ways. And for the way we did it, as far as we knew, we did the best time.

HARRIS: How much time? How much time? How much time did it take you?

BADACZEWSKI: Twenty-four hours and two minutes.

HARRIS: So you did it.

GREEN: We did it.

HARRIS: You did it. Congratulations.

GREEN: Thank you very much.

HARRIS: I don't know what it wins you, but...


GREEN: It wins us a spot on your show.

HARRIS: There you go. We're all happy for that. Don and Matt, good to see you both. Congratulations.

More AMERICAN MORNING right after this break.



HARRIS: We're back after a quick break.