Slowly, oh so haltingly, there’s progress on making the Plan B “morning-after” contraceptive available over the counter, but only to women 18 years or older.
Conservatives, the small-government people, are still opposed. In its Tuesday coverage of the issue, The New York Times quoted the Concerned Women of America’s Wendy Wright — the perfect name for someone in her position, from the WASPish “Wendy” to the metonymy of “Wright” for those she represents — as saying it was wrong to sell the drug over the counter because any man could buy it.
“You could have a statutory rapist buy the drug in order to cover up his abuse,” Wright said.
It’s worth noting Wright’s technique in this flagrantly flawed argument: She has tried to find the worst possible use of the drug to demonstrate the horror of allowing it to be used at all, a strange gambit for people broadly associated with supporting the free flow of automatic weapons and cop-killer bullets as a celebration of American rights. If it’s unfair to lump birth control opponents with gun nuts, then consider that Band-Aids might be stripped from pharmacy shelves because, obviously, domestic abusers could use them to heal the wounds they’ve inflicted.
It’s also worth considering that bans on abortion keep failing because they make no provision for girls or women who have been the victims of incest or — right — rape. A girl who has been raped, statutorily or otherwise, could imaginably want to take the Plan B contraceptive to ensure she doesn’t bear the baby of her abuser.
It would be the rare, obstinate but ignorant girl who would insist on waiting nine months to give birth to a man’s baby just to prove him a criminal. A medical examination and DNA swabbing could do the same with less impact on her lifestyle.
The galling thing about the Plan B debate is that it hinges now on a woman being 18 or older to get the drug when the age of consent comes up to four years earlier in all but 14 states in this country. For example, a girl in Hawaii is legally entitled to have sex at the age of 14, but she wouldn’t be entitled to buy this form of contraception. It has nothing to do with physiology; a 23-4 vote by a Food and Drug Administration advisory committee approved the drug for all ages, only to be overruled by an agency official on moral rather than scientific grounds. The drug is 18-and-over because manufacturer Barr Pharmaceuticals rewrote the application to make agency approval more likely among conservatives, who are also the state’s-rights people.
This would put Plan B in a short but pervasive list of U.S. age inequities, including the classic protest that 18-year-olds can join the Army, kill and be killed, but not drink alcohol for another three years. My favorite is the little-noticed puzzle that kids are charged an adult price for movies once they’re 12 or so, but can’t see R-rated movies alone until they’re 17. There’s a roughly five-year gap in which they pay as an adult but can’t go to such movies without an “adult guardian.”
None of this makes any sense, of course. Especially in the context of the ages of consent already established state by state, the 18-or-older restriction seems on the one hand pointlessly arbitrary, on the other hypocritically moralistic — like keeping a hangover treatment for those 23 or older because you don’t want to encourage binge drinking among those most likely to engage in that behavior.
Once you’re legal, you’re legal, and there shouldn’t be different levels of permission based on an FDA official’s opinion of the rightness of your actions.