To reproductive rights advocates starved for some good news amidst the continuing crusade of Republican-controlled state legislatures to restrict the availability of theoretically legal abortions, today’s decision by a federal district court judge in New York striking down a FDA ban on over-the-counter sales of “Plan B” contraceptive pills to customers under the age of 17 will be most welcome. The judge found Kathleen Sebelius’ rationale for the under-17 ban to be “arbitrary and capricious,” which could describe a lot of policies designed to turn down the heat on “hot-button” cultural issues.
It’s unclear whether the administration will fight or appeal the decision, but the one certain thing is that it will set the antichoice movement into an even fuller cry of outrage. I’m not sure how clearly a lot of progressives not directly involved in the reproductive rights battle understand this, but antichoicers (and Republican pols) almost universally describe Plan B not as a “contraceptive” but as an “abortifacient,” insofar as it operates (like an IUD, and in some cases like the regular old “pill”) by interfering with the implantation of a fertilized ovum in the uterine wall. The medical and scientific communities define “conception” as occurring after the successful implantation.
So the conservative reaction to this court decision won’t be primarily based on the usual stuff about giving teenagers access to “birth control” in a way that contributes to sexual delinquency. No, it will be about encouraging teenage girls to “kill their babies” without parental or medical supervision.
The common-sense argument that Plan B will help reduce the number of abortions by preventing unwanted pregnancies just doesn’t wash with anti-choicers (or for that matter, the Catholic Bishops, which has made the coverage of “abortifacients” by the Obama administration’s contraceptive coverage mandate the centerpiece of its claim that the mandate deeply violates “religious liberty”). They claim Plan B is abortion, precisely the same in its moral significance as infanticide.
Aside from giving frightened teenagers a “Plan B” in cases of unprotected or under-protected sex, willing or unwilling, the good thing that could come out of this court decision is better public understanding of the extremism and consequences of the definition of “life” the antichoice movement and its wholly-owned subsidiary the GOP have embraced. It’s precisely the definition contained in all those “personhood initiatives” that typically repel a majority of voters—even in Mississippi!.
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