The Justice Department recently decided to comply with a judge’s order to allow minors to purchase emergency contraception without a prescription or age restriction. While reproductive rights and justice groups applaud this progress for women’s health, antichoice groups denounce the decision, also claiming to have women’s well-being in mind.
Human Life International, a Christian Right antichoice group, issued a press release soon after the news became public. Despite the fact that medical experts such as American Academy of Pediatrics agree the pill is safe and have recommended that the pill be made available to teens of all ages, HLI president Father Shenan J. Boquet called the decision “dangerous and a threat to the health of young women and unborn life.”
Emergency contraception works by preventing ovulation. It contains the same hormone found in normal contraceptive pills, but at a higher dose. If taken within 72 hours, the pill drastically decreases the chances of pregnancy; it has no effect on existing pregnancies. Yet in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence, Father Boquet suspects subterfuge, saying that “Plan B is most likely not a contraceptive at all, but an abortifacient pill.”
Beyond the false claim that the pill will harm unborn life, HLI and many other conservative groups claim to be worried about the safety and health of girls. Access to emergency contraception will send “the dangerous message that there is a ‘safe’ way to avoid the natural consequences of risky sexual behavior,” says Boquet, “… leading young women to objectify themselves for use by men.” Evidence has shown, however, that access to emergency contraception does not increase sexual activity among teens, nor does it decrease use of normal contraceptives.
Boquet says this increased availability will also “provide a convenient method of hiding the sexual abuse of young girls.” Similarly, Anna Higgins of the Family Research Council said “there is real danger that Plan B may be given to young girls, under coercion or without their consent,” and Janice Crouse of the right-wing Concerned Women for America called this a “pedophile’s dream.” Such alarming rhetoric from the Right is common, but it falls short of sound logic. There is no evidence to suggest that access to emergency contraception increases instances of sexual assault, and under the current policy, adult men can already obtain the pill as long as they show ID. Allowing girls access to Plan B simply makes it their choice.
There is little reason to believe this rhetoric of concern for victims is genuine, judging from the organization’s self-identified goals, past activities, and lack of support from advocates or organizations who work to prevent sexual abuse. Conservative groups like Human Life International and Family Research Center are exploiting the issue of sexual assault to advance their own antichoice agenda, ultimately showing little regard for women’s health and autonomy.