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Old Enough to be Raped

Amy Fried, Ph.D.

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Dec. 13, 2011

The shocking betrayal by Obama's HHS Secretary involved woefully little consideration of rape victims.


This past Sunday, I was watching one of my new favorite MSNBC shows, Up with Chris Hayes , when the subject turned to the unprecedented reversal of an FDA decision on Plan B - emergency contraception - by Obama's HHS Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius. Rebecca Traister was particularly passionate in her condemnation of President Obama's statement of agreement with Sebelius, in which he invoked his role as the father of two daughters. Traister provided more background in her article on the subject.

Obama's statement, seen as paternalistic by Traister, was:

""As the father of two daughters," Obama told reporters, "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.'"

Traister's comeback was devastating:

" Recasting this debate as an episode of "Father Knows Best" reaffirms hoary attitudes about young women and sex that had their repressive heyday in the era whence that program sprang."

adding that:

"... drinking a whole jug of Pepto-Bismol or swallowing 50 Advil, [are] things that any 11-year-old who walks into a CVS with a wad of cash could theoretically do."

However, I found myself disappointed with the discussion on Chris Hayes' show, despite the fact that I regard Hayes as one of the smartest people on television. It focused on parents' reflexive discomfort with their daughters' sexuality, leaving out the most logical and urgent use for emergency contraception: the case of rape . Nancy L. Stanwood, MD, MPH, section chief of family planning at Yale School of Medicine pointed out that:

""Many women who have been raped do not come in for medical care, and many do not see a doctor in a timely manner, ". With over-the-counter sale of Plan B, at least they could do this. And young women are more likely to be raped. We want these women to get medical care, but most do not do it quickly.'"

Slate's Amanda Marcotte has described the Obama Administration position as accepting " impregnated rape victims as collateral damage."

According to the Guttmacher Institute, states differ widely on requiring hospitals to offer emergency contraception to rape victims, which leaves many victims unprotected by those they ought to trust. Traister pointed to the additional complication for young women who might be undocumented, or who live in a small town - where privacy might be a challenge - having to provide an ID an a prescription to a pharmacist.

Traister emphasized the - literally - paternalistic tone of Obama's remarks, while several commentators focused on the nonsensical health concerns, or on whether girls the age of Obama's daughters could understand the Plan B label. I wonder why rape didn't figure more prominently in the discussion by either Sebelius, Obama, or Hayes' panel. Of course, if Obama insists on making these kinds of decisions on a gut level, it would be difficult for him to imagine - God forbid - that one of his daughters could be raped. But as a matter of public policy, can he afford to close his eyes to that possibility?

If a girl is old enough to get pregnant - and, perversely, acknowledging that this can happen as early as 11 was actually part of Sebelius' argument - she is old enough to be impregnated against her will. It should be "common sense" that we wouldn't want anyone's daughter - including the President's - to be traumatized twice.

14 year old rape victim
flickr photo credit to Michael Keller By The Advocacy Project
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Amy Fried is the author of "Escaping Dick Cheney's Stomach," an edited compilation of her first 61 op-eds on opednews. She received her Ph.D. in the field of Organizational Behavior, which she now applies to her political writing. She's been an advocate for church-state separation and other civil liberties issues. She writes on the neoconservative mind, women's issues, media, veganism and the Religious Right.