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Try Plan D: Dump
Memo to George Allen: Dump Barr stock

Date published: 8/10/2006

Try Plan D: Dump

George Allen's morning-after problem

AS GOVERNOR, George Allen enticed drug maker Barr Laboratories to open shop in Bedford County, a deal that in time created 340 good jobs in the Lynchburg region. As a U.S. senator, Mr. Allen in 2004 bought stock in familiar Barr, whose medicines treat breast cancer, heart ailments, and much else. Alas, the senator bought the shares, now worth up to $13,000, after Barr began peddling Plan B, an "emergency contraceptive" that many social conservatives say kills unborn humans.

On the horns of a dilemma is no place a politician, even one with Mr. Allen's cowboy predilections, is comfortable sitting, and his Democratic rival, Jim Webb, is sharpening the horns. "Allen is profiting off a drug that many of his evangelical supporters consider a form of abortion," the Webb campaign states. "It seems hypocritical to oppose a woman's right to choose"--Mr. Allen, a Republican, has a solid pro-life voting record--"while investing in a drug that does just that. Allen should dump his Barr stock."

A politician doesn't get good advice like this every day from an opponent; Mr. Allen should take it.

Debate simmers over whether Plan B, meant to be taken within 72 hours after unprotected sex, is a true contraceptive or an abortifacient. What's clear is that many on the religious right--not some bogey brigade, but your Baptist neighbor, Catholic barber, or Orthodox Jewish doctor--believe that "morning-after pills" destroy human life. A politician whose base includes such Americans is unwise to provide investment capital--one function of stock sales--to a company that makes this kind of compound.

Moreover, the Webb people miscued a bit in invoking their foe's "evangelical supporters." The Barr stocks may cause Mr. Allen even more problems with devout Catholics. One of the company's two main generic lines is oral contraceptives--in 2005, Barr sold 22 varieties of The Pill--as are four of the five "key proprietary products" hyped on its Web site. None of this is likely to win Mr. Allen many cheers down at the Knights of Columbus hall.

Mr. Allen argues that Barr is a fine corporate citizen and that many of its products are grand. Indeed. But if good works erased moral iniquities--none in this society outranks abortion on demand in the eyes of many longtime Allen backers--the world would have saluted Mussolini for the efficiencies he brought to Italian rail.

A sunny and forward-looking conservative with presidential aspirations, Mr. Allen has been compared to Ronald Reagan. In 1983, Reagan wrote this: "There is no cause more important for preserving freedom than affirming the transcendent right to life of all human beings, the right without which no other rights have any meaning."

Holding a handful of Barr certificates, what would the Gipper do? If Mr. Allen asks himself that, he'll pick up the phone and call his broker.