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Fasten Your Chastity Belts, It's Gonna Be A Bumpy Ride

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When I was growing up, my mother told me I shouldn't have sex before marriage. (Well, that worked!) A similarly effective approach is favored by the primitive religious nutters running our country. Unfortunately, they're trying to turn it into policy for the rest of us:

Mark Kaufman writes in The Washington Post:

Many social conservatives say, however, that contraceptives have limitations and that the only way a woman can ensure she will not have an unintended pregnancy is to refrain from sexual intercourse until she is ready to have a child.

Leslee Unruh, president and founder of the Abstinence Clearinghouse, a South Dakota-based nonprofit that seeks to educate about abstinence programs, said the growing number of unintended pregnancies among poorer women shows that traditional sex education programs are failing.

"Programs for poor women are often so condescending, even degrading," she said. "They teach how to put on a condom rather than how to take control of their lives."

Oh, like by getting married at 19 simply because they're horny?

Kate Zernike writes in The New York Times:

Contraception use has declined strikingly over the last decade, particularly among poor women, making them more likely to get pregnant unintentionally and to have abortions, according to a report released yesterday by the Guttmacher Institute.

The decline appears to have slowed the reduction in the national abortion rate that began in the mid-1980's.

"This is turning back the clock on all the gains women have made in recent decades," Sharon L. Camp, the president of the institute, said.

...The researchers blamed reductions in federally and state-financed family planning programs for declining contraceptive use. They called for public and private insurance to cover contraceptives, and for over-the-counter access to the so-called morning-after pill, which can prevent pregnancy if taken within 72 hours after sex.

"We need to really go back to, and redouble, our efforts to ensure that all women are able to obtain contraceptives," Heather D. Boonstra, another author, said.

Of three million pregnancies in the United States each year, half are unintended, according to Guttmacher, and half of those are carried to term. About 14,000 women who carry the pregnancies put the children up for adoption, and 1.3 million have abortions.

Nicholas Kristof tries to talk some sense into the "libido-phobes":

...Contraception generally doesn't cause sex, any more than umbrellas cause rain.

The reality is that almost two-thirds of American girls have lost their virginity by the time they turn 18 — and one-quarter use no contraception their first time. Some 800,000 American teenagers become pregnant each year, 80 percent of the time unintentionally.

So we may wince at the thought of a 15-year-old girl obtaining Plan B after unprotected sex. But why does the White House prefer to imagine her pregnant?

Indeed, Plan B may be more important for teenagers than for adults, because adults are more likely to rely on a regular contraceptive. Teenagers wing it.

Granted, making contraceptives available — all kinds, not just Plan B — presents a mixed message. We encourage young people to abstain from sex, and then provide condoms in case they don't listen. But that's because we understand human nature: We also tell drivers not to speed, but provide air bags in case they do.

The administration's philosophy seems to be that the best way to discourage risky behavior is to take away the safety net. Hmmm. I suppose that if we replaced air bags with sharpened spikes on dashboards, people might drive more carefully — but it still doesn't seem like a great idea.

Finally, a slightly overdue special thanks to women's health hero Dr. Felicia Stewart, who died in April at 63. Stewart was the gynecologist who spearheaded the creation of the morning after pill. Joceyln Y. Stewart writes in the LA Times:

Two decades of work as a clinician provided her with the experiences that would shape her views on the need for emergency contraceptives.

"She, unlike many of us, dealt with women who had been raped or had a condom break or otherwise had a contraceptive emergency," Camp said.

Before the creation of Plan B, Stewart offered her patients a form of emergency contraceptive. She prescribed birth control pills in a higher than normal dose, which worked in much the same way as a morning-after pill.

But Stewart was convinced that availability and awareness would increase with a product designed and marketed for the purpose of preventing unintended pregnancies after sex.

Stewart countered objections that the availability of the pill would cause women to become lax in their insistence that men use condoms, or that women would use the pill in excess.

"Look, people's lives are people's lives, and some of them can't cope or be as organized as some of us might like," she told a New York Times reporter in 1993. "But it's only in the area of sex that we get involved in the ethics of promoting risk taking, the idea that we should withhold information or devices because we don't want people to need them.

"Would you make the same argument about cholesterol drugs? Saying, if we give people a drug that will reduce cholesterol, they won't be as likely to exercise and eat properly like they really should?"

By the early 1990s, Stewart was speaking at conferences and writing on what she called "the best-kept secret" by doctors, but pharmaceutical companies were not interested, Camp said. The issue was controversial and the potential profit seemed slim, given that the young and poor women most likely to need the pill had little money to buy it.

But Camp and many others who heard her were convinced. In the end, it took a private-public sector partnership — and Camp's creation of a pharmaceutical company — to get the pill on the market. It won FDA approval in 1990 and is now available by prescription. Stewart supported efforts to make the drug available over the counter, but that idea has faced opposition and stalled, Camp said.

Posted by aalkon at May 8, 2006 11:59 AM

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don't have sex = don't get pregnant.
um... they need a program to teach people this?

Posted by: moron at May 8, 2006 4:04 AM

Great post, Amy! You have some excellent quotes in there and some very fine points to use against the abstinence-only crowd.

This also goes to show how religion ruins lives. I am always looking for examples of that.

Posted by: Silver_Fox at May 8, 2006 5:43 AM

God damn,

I miss In-n-out!


Posted by: eric at May 8, 2006 8:34 PM

PS- The only thing I miss about California more than In-n-Out is Ginas Pizza and Claim Jumper.

Shit! Idaho food basically sucks.

Posted by: eric at May 8, 2006 8:36 PM

Michigan is rolling out it's MI CHOICE program this year, a birth control coverage program for women that do not have insurance and are not eligible for Medicaid. When almost half the births in the state are paid for by the "State", and because pregnancy is a qualifier for Medicaid. I think what I am skeptical about is if the program will survive if DeVos becomes govenor. I am not sure what your feelings are about this, and I know that you are a Michigan native. What gives me the wilburs about DeVos the most? Amway, the fact he comes from that strange Dutch Christian Reform part or our state, or the fact his daddy bought a heart and a trip to England all in the same week.

Posted by: sonja at May 9, 2006 4:03 AM

Sounds like a smart program. It's fiscally sounder than paying for pregnancy and child support.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at May 9, 2006 7:09 AM

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