Have you heard about the holiday gift some people think American girls should be getting this year? “Emergency contraception.”
Truth be told, it’s not likely to happen before the winter solstice. But a fiscal cliff isn’t the only disaster to be on alert about. During Thanksgiving week the American Academy of Pediatrics announced its recommendation that “morning after” prescriptions be issued to adolescent girls as a matter of course, allowing them the false security of what has long been described by advocates as a “fire extinguisher” in their purse to counter at least some of the consequences of risky behavior.
“There’s no good reason” why there should not be follow-through on the recommendation, the San Francisco Chronicle asserts. No good reason? Good and plenty, as it happens.
This approach, besides being deeply insulting to the human dignity of adolescents, exposes the reality that when we talk about sex these days, we all too often put good health and good sense aside, despite the rhetoric about “women’s health.” (Even the pediatricians do!) “Women’s health” routinely assumes promiscuity, whatever the age, and despite the risks to the girl’s or woman’s physical and mental health.
“Taking Plan B in the hopes that no one will find out will lead to girls’ suffering and struggling on their own, long past the time when medical care is indicated,” says Anna Halpine, founder of the World Youth Alliance and CEO of the FEMM (Fertility Education and Medical Management) Foundation. “You need a prescription for Plan B because it includes high levels of hormones that can lead to serious side effects, particularly in certain populations. Girls on Plan B also need to know that if something goes wrong, their parents and medical providers need to be there to support them, and if necessary to intervene with care.”
In some New York City public schools, though, an experimental program has already declared girls’ independence from their parents: It dispenses emergency contraception without parental consent. This, despite the biological dangers of introducing hormones into a teenage girl’s body. This, even though a minor cannot give informed consent — a concern that the faux freedom advocates seem to sidestep all too casually.
“Further, counseling regarding sexual activity needs to be provided, and this should not be taken lightly,” Halpine insists. “Girls are 50 percent more likely to contract infections and sexually transmitted diseases than boys because of immature and underdeveloped cervixes, and they and their parents need to have this information.”
“Girls often need support in order to avoid coercive early sexual activity, and the support of parents and medical providers is critical to enabling them to make healthy decisions,” Halpine observes. “Girls want to be loved, not just used, and being affirmed in their pursuit of education and long-term dreams is a necessary part of the empowerment of any girl. Happiness is not an illusion; there are concrete things that can be done to achieve it, and explaining that to our girls is our responsibility and obligation. As the hookup culture grows ever more pervasive, it is matched by rising rates of female depression. We need to take these indicators of our young women’s development seriously, and make sure that we provide them with clear messages that help them fulfill their potential and achieve their dreams.”
Step away from the policy statement and take a look around. What Halpine says should be common sense. Acting on it should be a prerequisite for anyone who claims to be an advocate for women and girls.
Especially perplexing, the pediatricians’ new policy recommendation doesn’t even address the problem it claims to be a solution for. As Greg Pfundstein of the Chiaroscuro Foundation points out, the AAP itself admits that “there is no evidence, anywhere, of access to Plan B resulting in a decrease in teen pregnancy. It is important to note that this fact is not in dispute: No study claims to have shown that access to emergency contraception decreases teen pregnancy rates.”
And so Valerie Huber, president of the National Abstinence Education Association, asks the obvious question: “Teens would benefit from physicians’ counsel that encourages them to wait for sex — or to choose abstinence again if they are currently sexually active. The authoritative counsel of a physician can be persuasive. Why not write a policy that encourages physicians to use their influence to guide teens toward avoiding all the risks related to early sex?”
The answer is: Because that’s not the ideology of the hour. And so experts throw out bungee-jumping cords in the hopes that some of the kids who are way past knowing they have fallen off a health cliff, never mind a moral cliff, will catch a line.
Even with this sick AAP recommendation — complete with a lecture to doctors and pharmacists who might have ethical objections — and a poisoned apple in some New York City schools, some common sense may still be within reach. The AAP recommendation, as it happens, might be a step too far for even the Obama administration. Earlier this year, when the Department of Health and Human Services overruled a Federal Drug Administration recommendation that Plan B be made available over the counter, none other than Barack Obama declared: “I think it is important for us to make sure that we apply some common sense to various rules when it comes to over-the-counter medicine. . . . The reason Kathleen [Sebelius] made this decision was she could not be confident that a ten-year-old or an eleven-year-old going into a drugstore should be able — alongside bubble gum or batteries — be able to buy a medication that potentially, if not used properly, could end up having an adverse effect.”
Could we actually take a few steps back together here? Toward something healthier than a wholesale surrender of innocence, medical knowledge, and common sense? Could we ask for a cultural second opinion? It will require a little critical perseverance in the face of attractive, distracting rhetoric about health and freedom. But, “for the children,” can we afford anything less?
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online. This column is available exclusively through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.