Who to blame for the Plan B debacle?
I have a post up at XX Factor laying out why this is just the stupidest decision possible from Sebelius, both in terms of the adolescents who are being kept from preventing pregnancy and in terms of adults who will continue to be forced to beg for emergency contraception from pharmacists. From every medical, humanitarian, and scientific viewpoint, Sebelius's unprecedented decision to overrule the FDA on this is the wrong decision. I think she knows that. I think Obama knows that, if he had a hand in this. They are not stupid people, and so they can't not know that.
So why on earth did this happen? Well, it has to be political, doesn't it? I think so, yes. The Obama administration has already caught a lot of flack for classifying contraception as "prevention", and making it free without a co-pay, and so they threw teenage girls and adult women seeking EC out as a sacrificial lamb to "pay" for that. That seems obvious enough to me and apparently to the entire world. But a lot of people seem to think that's a really stupid decision, assuming that the opposition to OTC Plan B is the same as the opposition to covering contraception fully, that is, a bunch of misogynist wingnuts that will never vote for Obama anyway, and no one else. And really, that was my first inclination, too. But then I started to check out some non-wingnut reactions, and now I'm not so sure anymore. Turns out a lot of people—especially men—who think of themselves as "reasonable" or moderate or even liberal, quickly glommed on to the argument that this ruling was addressing a parent's right to know. They falsely assumed that putting Plan B out of reach of teenagers will force teenagers to talk to their parents, and didn't consider that for many to most teenagers who were already not talking to parents, it will actually cause them to shut up about it and hope that they just don't get pregnant.
From a teenager's perspective, skipping Plan B and praying you don't get pregnant is the best choice. Here are the possibilities from the perspective of a teenager who is already not communicating about sex with her parents:
Option #1: Tell my parents and get Plan B.* Doing this means a 100% chance of your parents finding out that you're fucking. That is what is wished to be avoided. The teenager already not communicating with her parents knows that the consequences will be anything from a lecture that won't change her mind about fucking to, worst case scenario, a beating that won't change her mind about fucking. There is no value in this for the teenager. The parent will be upset, and she will be resolved in her decision to fuck. Remember being a teenager? Remember how much your parents disapproval of you growing up and trying new adult behaviors had no impact on your choices? Yeah, that hasn't changed.
Option #2: Don't tell my parents and take my chances with getting pregnant. This reduces the odds of eventually coming clean to your folks to about 1 in 4, maybe even lower. If you do get pregnant, then you're just in the same boat you were with Option #1, so nothing is lost. But if you don't get pregnant, you never have to deal with it. If you do get pregnant and want an abortion, parents who are going to block that would have blocked Plan B, too, so again, you are in the same position as if you hadn't waited.
Nothing to lose, and everything to gain, logically speaking, for a teenager who avoids asking for Plan B from a parent. So the "parent excuse" is illogical. Unfortuantely, a lot of people have completely forgotten about what it's like to be a teenager and are so self-absorbed, they can't get past thinking about how they don't want their own daughter to make a decision without asking for permission. And unfortunately, a lot of people in that position are likely Obama voters, so I can see how the administration decided not to cross them. It's still immoral and wrong to make such a political calculation, but in terms of a political calculatioon, it's not wrong. Sadly, many liberals and quite a few moderates believe teenage sexuality is immoral, even though they themselves were sexually active as teenagers.
So this is who I blame: all of us. Anti-choicers are going to be anti-choicers. They don't want anyone fucking, and they want those who do to pay for it dearly with the loss of their health, their freedom, and even their lives. We can't change that. What we can change is our reaction to it. And when it comes to teenage sexuality, liberals have unfortunately been unable to offer a strong defense of teenagers' rights and teenagers' desires, allowing anti-choice rhetoric to gain more of a hold than it should have.
The problem comes back to the phrase, "They're going to do it whether we like it or not."
This is a favorite phrase of liberals defending everything from sex education to condom access for teenagers. It buys into the assumption that teenage sexuality is automatically illicit, and that the ideal would be retaining your virgnity until some non-disclosed point in the future. It treats teenagers having sex with each other as an unavoidable tragedy, like a hurricane. We argue that sex education is a matter of harm reduction, instead of viewing it as a baseline for one of the best parts of life. It's in direct opposition to how we teach driving. We frame driving as an exciting new development that demonstrates that a teenager is getting closer to adulthood. Yes, it's about responsibility, but everyone involved is happy because we know that it's really cool getting to the point where you can start going where you what when you want, and the fun and freedom that affords you. On the contrary, most adults imagine the discovery that an adolescent is sexually active as a tragic event for the family that requires recriminations and possibly even punishment. In this environment, the idea that the government policy should be about forcing this discovery instead of protecting adolescent health makes all too much sense.
Some liberals offer support for this more progressive view of teenage sexuality, pointing out that we all were doing it as teenagers, and it turned out pretty well on the whole. And would have been even better if there hadn't been so much shame and fear. But mostly liberals buy the idea that teenage sexuality should be treated like a form of acting out and misbehaving, and that when you turn 18 or 21 or 25, you should be able to flip a switch that makes it about pleasure and bonding. Until liberals as a group are willing to be outspoken in our support of teenagers' right to grow into their sexuality at their own pace—and that we did so ourselves, and it was fine—we can expect Democrats to take a punitive approach to teenage sexuality instead of a sex-positive, health-centric view.
*Even for the minority of kids who take this road, it's still less ideal than letting them buy Plan B OTC, because going to a parent, going to a doctor, and going to the pharmacy takes up a lot of precious time. You want to take Plan B with speed, because it prevents ovulation and if you ovulate before you take it, you're shit out of luck. Speed is of essence.