Why a Safe, Tiny Little Pill Scares the Hell out of Prude Christian Conservatives
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You know the 11-year-old down the street who is dividing her after-school time between the park where she gets laid and the drug store where she buys her douches? Yeah, neither do I. But apparently a number of right-wing commentators live in a different world than we do, because in their world that girl is the reason all of us should have to show ID to get emergency contraception.
In their world, if we can get EC without showing our names and birthdates, so can she. Apparently, this girl’s fear of pregnancy is the only thing keeping her and her peers from even nastier sex lives. Think tweens gone wild. As columnist Kathleen Parker put it, “As long as there’s an exit, whether abortion or Plan B, what’s the incentive to await mere maturity?” Conversely, if we all are willing to put up with the minor humiliation of announcing our names and ages to drug store cashiers along with our contraceptive failures, that girl will instead turn to the wise, thoughtful parents whose supervision she’s somehow been evading. The mother and father will buy Plan B with their own 50 bucks instead of her allowance. And those parents, who have heretofore failed to notice their daughter’s precocious promiscuity, will carefully read the Plan B insert and coach her through the nausea—or at least coach her on how best to parent her baby.
And they will all live happily ever after.
In my world, where science and data matter, less than one percent of 11-year-olds have had sex, and for most of those, it was not "sex" but incest, rape, or some other form of sexual assault. For 12-year-olds, that number is two to four percent. When it comes to actually purchasing expensive EC, the percent of pre-teens who can scrape together $50 unnoticed may be as small as the percent who are sleeping around, like next to none. Tweens Gone Wild is a pedophilic fantasy.
However, teen sex isn’t. By age 15, about 13 percent of teens have initiated sex. The average age at which people start sexual activity is 17, and by age 19, 70 percent have had sex at least once. Fortunately, teens are starting sex later than they used to, but thanks in part to abstinence-only education, many don’t use protection till they have a scare. Teen pregnancy, when carried to term, trashes lives. Only 40 percent of girls who give birth between ages 15 and 17 ever graduate high school; fewer than 2 percent graduate college by age 30. Their offspring have higher rates of poverty, learning problems, health problems, criminality—and teen pregnancy. Even during the 20s, unintended pregnancy is associated with economic struggles, reduced opportunity and less family flourishing.
In this world, where morality is about actually making people’s lives better, drug regulations are optimized to promote the general welfare. Public health officials do a complex risk benefit analysis to decide whether any given drug prevents more harm than it causes. Part of their responsibility is to assess whether men, women and children are best served by having that drug be available over the counter or under the scrutiny of a physician.
In the case of Plan B, every body of relevant experts—the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the FDA scientists themselves -- believes that the public health is best served by having Plan B freely available to all who seek it. The primary question in their minds is whether other more effective forms of contraception (including more effective emergency contraception like ella and Paragard) should be freely available as well. Their recommendations are based on research that says Plan B is safer than Tylenol, and the risks of Plan B (and Tylenol) are many times lower than the risks from miscarriage, abortion, or—most risky of all—full-term pregnancy. That is why the presence of Plan B on regular drugstore shelves should be taken as a sign that the professional and regulatory bodies are doing their jobs.