Plan B for Minors — It’s Not About Sex

The Obama administration’s decision not to appeal a federal judge’s order to allow girls of any age to buy emergency contraception without a prescription hasn’t settled this debate. Not by a long shot.

On Morning Joe today, Dr. Nancy Snyderman said, “It makes people wiggy about parenting, this is where politics and medicine do not make for good bedfellows.”

Moments later, Joe Scarborough said, “Do parents have a right to be a little uncomfortable about the fact that their 14-year-old daughter can just go over and buy a Plan B?”

C’mon Joe. That’s not what’s making you uncomfortable. You’re making a mistake that is all too common in this debate about reproductive justice and women’s health by conflating two separate conversations.

One is about sex. The other is about health care. Both are important, but they are not the same.

Is it inappropriate for 14-year-old girls to be having sex? Of course it is.

Should parents bite the bullet and have the difficult conversation with their young daughters (and sons) about having sex too young? Of course they should.

But would a responsible parent wish to deny their child urgently needed — potentially life-saving — health care?

Of course they shouldn’t. And not many parents would say they do.

But that’s exactly what they are saying when they conflate the medical conversation about emergency contraception with the personal conversation about teenage sexuality.

It may be easier for some parents to turn the political debate over access to reproductive health care into a surrogate for the family conversation about teenage sex. But it isn’t, and it won’t get them off the hook.

Parents should know that they can’t control their daughters’ sexual activity by controlling their access to health care. Every parent has had to explain to their children that actions have consequences, but telling a child who’s wrecked the family car that they have to take responsibility for repairing it is hardly the same as forcing a young daughter who’s had unprotected sex to become a teenage mother.

President Obama employed the same faulty reasoning when he explained his support of the FDA’s decision to overrule the agency’s own scientists and impose age limits on emergency contraception.

“As the father of two daughters, I think it is important for us to make sure that we apply some common sense to various rules when it comes to over-the-counter medicine,” Obama said then.

But what really makes sense is for parents to accept the responsibility they have to ensure their children’s access to quality health care when they need it most. Barack Obama knows that, Joe Scarborough knows that, and I’d bet that even the most vociferous opponents of unrestricted access to Plan B know that.

It’s only when that health care accompanies a realization that kids are having sex that people get a little “wiggy.”

First published on Terry O’Neill’s Huffington Post blog on 06/12/2013

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