Monday, June 05, 2006

The religious control of US contraceptive policy leads to another unwanted abortion

Sunday's Washington Post had a stunning article (free registration required) explaining how a 42-year-old married mother of two ended up having an abortion because she could not get a timely prescription for Plan B, the "morning-after pill."

The piece is stunning not because the facts are so unusual, but because they are so incredibly ordinary: A woman and her husband -- the sort of busy people who are always juggling family and work responsibilities -- find themselves with an unplanned bit of privacy and somehow they forget to use the diaphragm.

So the woman, who knows pregnancy is trickier in your 40s and who doesn't want another child, tries to get a prescription for Plan B. But her ob-gyn won't give her one. Her internist won't give her one. And the midwives who helped with her last pregnancy won't give her one without an appointment, and they don't have one available. All this for a drug that a panel of medical experts advising the Food and Drug Administration recommended for sale over the counter back in December 2003 -- a recommendation that's been held up ever since because the religious right wants it that way.

In this case, she couldn't get the pill after several tries, decided to hope for the best, and ended up pregnant. Her experience getting an abortion -- an abortion that wouldn't have been necessary if she'd been able to get the pill -- turned out to be even more harrowing. In fact, her description of events -- the mob of protesters outside the clinic, the doctor who was delayed for an hour and a half, her inability to confirm her appointment because the clinic doesn't do that for safety reasons -- gave off echoes of the bad old days when abortion wasn't legal.

Here's what we've come to under this administration: Medical science has developed a safe after-the-fact contraceptive and women can't get their hands on it. In a society that was founded on freedom of religion, responsible grown women -- much less teenage girls -- can't take steps to prevent a pregnancy because some religious extremists are opposed to Plan B.

Let's face it: These religious extremists aren't just opposed to abortion; they're opposed to contraception. They want to make sure nobody -- not even happily married heterosexual couples with children -- has sex for any reason except procreation. They're cramming their religious beliefs about sex down our throats.

What most people want is access to reasonable forms of contraception -- including Plan B -- with abortion available as a last-resort back up, because there is no 100 percent perfect form of birth control. Science and law have provided us with that system, but religious extremists are blocking our access to it.

In a country that treasures freedom of religion as a founding principle, we've ended up with a contraception policy based on the religious beliefs of a narrow minority. The only way to undermine this policy -- outside of voting out the politicians who pander to the religious right -- is to stand up for our right to make our own decisions about our sex lives. It's a right that we can lose if we don't fight to protect it.

As the author of the article says:

And to think that, all these years after Roe v. Wade became the law of the land, this is what our children have to look forward to as they approach their reproductive years.

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