'Morning-after' pill debate marginalizes parents again

WASHINGTON — They lost me at the word "women."

As so often happens with contemporary debate, arguments being proffered in support of allowing teenagers as young as 15 (and possibly younger) to buy the "morning-after pill" without adult supervision are false on their premise.

Here's an experiment to demonstrate.

Question 1: Do you think that women should have access to Plan B, also known as the morning-after pill, to be used at their own discretion? Yes!

Question 2: Do you think that girls as young as 11 or 12 should be able to buy the morning-after pill without any adult supervision? Didn't think so.

Question 3: If you answered yes to Question 2, are you a parent? Didn't think so.

Perhaps a few parents answered yes to Question 3, but I suspect not many. Yet, repeatedly in the past several days, we've heard the argument that any interference with the over-the-counter sale of Plan B to any female of any age is blocking a woman's right to self-determination. Fifteen-year-olds, where the limit is currently set, are girls, not women. And female parts do not a woman make any more than a correspondingly developed male makes the proud possessor a man.

The debate arose after a federal judge last month ordered that the government remove all obstacles to over-the-counter sales of Plan B. As it stands, children as young as 15 can buy the drug without a prescription or parental knowledge. They do have to show identification proving they are 15, which, as critics of such restrictions have pointed out, is problematic for many teens.

Apparently the Obama administration agrees that young girls shouldn't use so serious a drug, even though proclaimed medically "safe," without adult supervision. The Justice Department has given notice that it will appeal the judge's decision, a move that could potentially backfire and, in fact, remove all age barriers.

The dominant question is legitimate: Even if we would prefer that girls not be sexually active so early in life, wouldn't we rather they block a pregnancy before it happens than wait and face the worse prospect of abortion?

The pros are obvious: Plan B, if taken within three days of unprotected sex, greatly reduces the chance of pregnancy. If a child waits too long to take the pill, however, a fertilized egg could reach the uterine wall and become implanted, after which the drug is useless.

You see how the word "child" keeps getting in the way.

There's no point debating whether such young girls should be sexually active. Obviously, given the potential consequences, both physical and psychological, the answer is no. Just as obvious, our culture says quite the opposite: As long as there's an exit, whether abortion or Plan B, what's the incentive to await mere maturity?

Advocates for lifting age limits on Plan B, including Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards, insist that the pill is universally safe and, therefore, all age barriers should be dropped. From a strictly utilitarian viewpoint, this may be well-advised. But is science the only determining factor when it comes to the well-being of our children? Even President Obama, who once boasted that his policies would be based on science and not emotion, has parental qualms about children buying serious drugs to treat a condition that has deeply psychological underpinnings.

What about the right of parents to protect their children? A 15-year-old can't get Tylenol at school without parental permission, but we have no hesitation about children taking a far more serious drug without oversight?

These are fair questions that deserve more than passing scrutiny — or indictments of prudishness. A Slate headline about the controversy goes: "The Politics of Prude." More to the point: The slippery slope away from parental autonomy is no paranoid delusion. Whatever parents may do to try to delay the ruin of childhood innocence, the culture says otherwise: Have sex, take a pill, don't tell mom.

Where, finally, do we draw the increasingly blurred line for childhood?

Americans may disagree about what is sexually appropriate for their children. And everyone surely wishes to prevent children from having babies. But public policy should be aimed at involving rather than marginalizing parents.

To say that this controversy is strictly political is no argument against debate. Politics is the debate about the role of government in our lives. And the debate about Plan B is fundamentally about whether government or parents have ultimate authority over their children's well-being.

Kathleen Parker, who writes for The Washington Post Writers Group, can be reached by email at kathleen@parkerwashpost.com.

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Nice Davis wrote on May 08, 2013 at 10:05 pm

Good grief, what a load of overwrought handwringing

rsp wrote on May 09, 2013 at 6:05 am

Why do people think that giving someone access to contraception is telling them they should have sex? Aren't we telling them we don't think they are ready for sex or babies? 

Sid Saltfork wrote on May 09, 2013 at 1:05 pm

Make them read a passage from the Bible, and watch a video on abortions before they can have the purchase made!!!  What about boys buying the pill at the store for girls??? 

Would I prefer that my grand daughter have no access to the morning after pill unless her parents were with her, or for her to have access to the pill when she might need it?  I am sure that my grand daughter does not know boys like that anyway.

Bulldogmojo wrote on May 09, 2013 at 2:05 pm

If you try and buy an energy drink at CVS in the self checkout line the register starts to flash and a cashier has to come over and apparently size you up for being old enough to buy one so I don't think its like getting it from an unsupervised vending machine as some would suggest.

Also if your 11 year old is having sex and also having to make contraception decisions on her own then you have failed as a parent.

Typical conservative awkwardness on the issue of sexual intelligence and honest discussion with children. All guilt and shame based.

rsp wrote on May 10, 2013 at 3:05 am

When I was expecting my second son, the only place I could get prenatal care with the medical card was through Planned Parenthood. We had to go to a parenting class. Some experimental thing they tried then. There was a 14 year old girl in the group with us, was expecting her second child. She was 8 months along and her first one was 9 months old. Nobody looked to see who was taking advantage of her. Nobody. 

dw wrote on May 10, 2013 at 2:05 pm

If it is indeed true as you state that nobody looked to see who was taking advantage of her of as you claim, then the uncomfortable truth is that nobody would include you.  

It is the adults' job -- especially adults who are parents -- to look out for the welfare of all kids.  It takes a village to raise a child, and some children need the whole village looking out for them, not just those "whose job it is"

You may choose to see it as a "failure of the system" but I choose to see "the system" as us.