The Politics of Overnight Birth Control
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Neighbors said she played often with her 13-month-old son in the front yard of her parent's home where she lived. Two baby swings, yellow and red, hang on ropes from limbs of a small tree. She was 16 when she got pregnant. Married the father. That Saturday morning when he was away serving in the Marines, she changed their boy's diaper, strapped him into the back car seat and drove to work at McDonalds. Eight hours and 130 degrees later, Diana Rodriguez returned to her car and dead baby. Screaming, she refused to give the body to paramedics. "It was a busy day. I didn't mean it. I forgot." She now faces up to 16 years in prison.
The headlines read "13-Month-Old Died in Car While Woman at Job." But usually someone her age -- a teenager -- is called a child, an innocent who must be shielded from temptation by education and sexual health services.
"Were talking about young people who can't remember to bring their homework to school or set their alarm clock -- and yet we want them to remember to use a condoms every time they engage in sexual intercourse?" says the head of the Florence, Kentucky health board's human sexuality committee, which decided abstinence-only is in, sex education's out.
Too young and irresponsible to handle sexual knowledge, but better be ready for baby should pregnancy follow the dirty deed. Who knows if Rodriguez had planned to become a mom before graduating from high school? But odds are she was taught to save herself for marriage. Dismiss her story as an isolated tragedy, one that has nothing to do with anything except one young woman's horrendous move. Or roll it into the many daily stories that dot headlines nationwide, such as abandoned infants at fire stations and dumpsters, shaking deaths by fathers trying to stop the crying, or parents otherwise ill prepared to bring a new life into this world.
The irrefutable fact is we are not giving young people the internal or external resources needed to make smart reproductive choices. Or adults. As the world zips ahead at technological warp speed, expanding and complicating possibilities found before only in science fiction -- cyberspace, cloning, fertility treatment, robotics, globalization -- government cranks back the clock to limit and simplify by legislating against sexual health services and education. Have sex, suffer the consequences is resurrected as public policy. Should an "oops" pregnancy happen -- and half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended -- conservatives are hard at work to ensure the pregnant one won't know of or can't exercise the latest medical options.
Called the biggest kept secret in medicine, emergency contraception (EC) can be taken up to 72 hours after unprotected intercourse to either block ovulation or, if too late, prevent the fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus. Research shows the two-dose hormone pills could cut the nation's three million unintended pregnancies a year in half, as well as 800,000 abortions. The true impact of EC is extricating individual lives, existing and potential, from, say, the drunken heat of the moment, forced sex, a night's desperation for promised love or a just broken condom.
But since the FDA approved two "morning after" pills three years ago, Preven and Plan B, political debate has raged over this technology that permits consequence-free non-procreative sex. Health advocates are pushing to make EC more accessible, as in Europe. W. Benson Harer Jr, the new president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, recently asked doctors to give women advance prescriptions of Preven, Plan B or Micronor during routine visits. California has a bill to make emergency contraception available over the counter, so that women, in an emergency, can obtain it without a prior doctor's visit. Only Washington state now provides that option. Last month eight California counties launched a pilot program that allows EC distribution without prescription.