October 31, 2006

Implications of Plan B availability

Yes, fisking is the second-lowest form of blogging, and yes, I really ought to write this as a letter to the editor, but I'm worn out, so you're lucky you're not getting a link dump. It's long, so meet me below the fold.

Charles Rice, entirely representative of the ND law faculty, had the following op-ed in the Observer today.

The Food and Drug Administration's approval of over-the-counter sale of the morning-after pill deserves more attention than it received.

Well, the feminist blogosphere raised one collective cry of "about damn time!", but I suppose that's little comfort to Prof. Rice.

Plan B is a higher dose of the birth control pill which can be sold only by prescription. Plan B is marketed as an "emergency contraceptive," but that is a misnomer. Like most oral "contraceptives," Plan B operates in three ways: it prevents ovulation; it prevents fertilization, the union of the sperm and the ovum; or, if fertilization occurs, it alters the lining of the womb so as to prevent the embryo (i.e., the new human being) from implanting in the womb. Implantation, five to seven days after fertilization, is necessary for the embryo to draw nutrition and survive.

Uh-oh. Except, of course, Plan B (and hormone contraceptives in general) only does the first one. Think about it: assuming Rice, non-MD, is right, and implantation takes place five to seven days after fertilization (that is, seven to ten days after intercourse), Plan B wouldn't have an effectiveness window of only 3 days after intercourse.

Let me say that again, with a strong tag: Plan B is only effective in the period of time before fertilization is likely. If Prof. Rice was right, it would be effective for almost twice as long.

Maybe Prof. Rice is a liar. Maybe he's just a bullshitter. Either way, this sort of behavior is entirely inappropriate.

That embryo is a human being. Beyond any rational doubt, the life of each human being begins at fertilization. When Louise Brown, the world's first "test-tube baby," was born in 1978, the whole world knew when her life began - at the in vitro fertilization. Even with identical twins, we know there is at least one life present at fertilization.

First of all, not to play asshole-with-a-dictionary, but it's not an embryo until after implantation. Second, "beyond any rational doubt" isn't an argument; it's begging the question and bullying impressionable undergrads into intellectual submission. If it wasn't already obvious, Prof. Rice is nothing more than a sophist and propagandist, with no respect for his audience.

I'm just a few column inches away from calling him evil. For now, I'll stick with douchebag. Charles Rice, professor of law emeritus at the University of Notre Dame, is a giant douchebag.

Since the mid-1960s, "pregnancy" has been widely redefined so as to begin not at fertilization but at implantation. That made it possible to market birth control pills as contraceptives despite the fact that most of them prevent implantation and are therefore abortifacients. Plan B, in preventing the implantation of the new human being in the womb, perpetrates a homicide.

No, he's getting around to the point of the column. Wait for it ...

Proponents claim that easy access to Plan B will reduce unwanted pregnancies and abortions. Recent studies from Washington State and Scotland, however, draw that assumption into question. The security blanket of the "morning after pill" can reduce barriers to a girl's consent to sexual relations.

Plan B lets people women girls have teh SEX!!!!! And once those sacred barriers girls have to consent -- you know, the fear of getting pregnant and having to drop out of college, quite possibly ruining her life -- are gone, civilization is doomed, DOOMED!

Because of the plague of paedophiliacs that inevitably results.

The authorization for over-the-counter sale of the morning-after pill can also facilitate sexual relations between minors and adults. A girl under 18 cannot go to a pharmacist and get the morning-after pill. But her over-18 male "partner" can get it. In 2002 the California Center for Health Statistics reported that a "slight majority" of pregnancies of girls ages 10 to 14 resulted from sex with an adult. And, of course, the morning-after pill can provide an added means to induce the consent to sexual relations of a female of any child-bearing age.

(1) Of course, since Plan B is just another abortifacient according to Dr. Rice, non-MD, it really doesn't offer anything, does it?

(2) One might think the obvious solution to the paedophilia plague is to follow through on the original recommendations of the FDA committee and authorize sale of Plan B to women as young as 14 or 15. Ironically, it's the anti-birth control fundamentalist crowd that pushed the age of sale up to 18.

(3) WOMEN HAVE SEXUAL AGENCY YOU MISOGYNIST DOUCHEBAG. They do not sit around waiting for men to trick them into spreading their legs with chocolate and birth control. Astoundingly, they will express sexual desire and even have unprotected sex when they don't want children.

Plan B, incidentally, is not free from its own complications. The package insert notes the following possible reactions: nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, tiredness, diarrhea, dizziness, heart pain, headache and menstrual changes.

You know what else is dangerous, gross, and usually involves a period of great discomfort? Pretty much every kind of medical treatment known to humanity. And here I assumed Prof. Rice was a Catholic, not a Christian Scientist.

So why is the over-the-counter sale of Plan B an important cultural indicator? The over-the-counter approval of Plan B reflects the decadence of a culture in which the intentional infliction of death upon the innocent as an optional problem-solving technique. Legalized surgical abortion, of course, provides the primary example. Another is the acceptance of the killing of some kinds of patients by starvation or excessive sedation, when the family and caregivers agree that the patient would want, or perhaps ought to want, to depart. The Schiavo case moved this allowance of homicide to a new and compulsory level - Judge George Greer ordered, rather than merely authorized, Michael Schiavo to remove all "nutrition and dehydration" from his wife, Terri.

Ideas have consequences. The Columbine High School massacre in 1999 was the first of many comparable incidents. If one has a personal problem, homicide is now on the table as a culturally, if not always legally, acceptable solution.

The over-the-counter sale of Plan B brings us down to a new level. You can buy an instrument of homicide, such as a knife or a hammer, in any hardware store. But Plan B is different. To use Plan B, like a hammer, according to the manufacturer's directions, necessarily involves a conditionally homicidal intent. The intent is to "prevent pregnancy," including by homicide if the life of the child has already begun. The message is that innocent life is so cheap that its termination can be included in your shopping list, over-the-counter. We can predict the expansion of providers beyond pharmacies to convenience stores, gas stations, mail order, etc. And we can hardly expect that this cultural and legal verdict that innocent life is so cheap will be confined to the unborn.

As Mother Teresa said at the 1994 National Prayer Breakfast, "[I]f we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?" Especially if the potential mother can buy the murder weapon over-the-counter at CVS or Wal-Mart.

This goes beyond intellectual dishonesty, beyond disrespect for one's audience, beyond sophistry, beyond propaganda, beyond misogyny, and beyond ad hominems. How else to describe the end of this column but simply spewing spectacularly vile rhetoric? How else to describe Prof. Rice but ... evil?


Noumena said...

Okay, I actually went through with the Letter to the Editor:

Dear Editor,
These may sound like harsh words, but I can find no better way to say it: Prof. Rice's recent op-ed on Plan B shows both a gross disrespect for women and a gross disrespect for his audience.

Early in his groundbreak book "After Virtue", Notre Dame's own Alisdair MacIntyre bemoans our culture's pervasive inability to distinguish between what he calls "manipulative" and "non-manipulative" social relations. As I understand this distinction, non-manipulative relations, in the context of a newspaper column, show a deep respect for the intelligence of one's audience, and present them with persuasive, rational arguments without distorting or oversimplifying the issue. Manipulative relations, on the other hand, propagandize and use emotional rhetoric, treating one's audience as, not intelligent persons to be persuaded with rational argumentation, but sheep to be manipulated.

Sadly, it seems clear that Prof. Rice has chosen to relate to his audience in a manipulative way, ignoring the research showing Plan B (and hormonal contraceptives in general) work only by preventing ovulation; no evidence has ever been gathered to support his contention that Plan B prevents implantation of an already-fertilized egg. Indeed, since implantation takes place a week or more after intercourse, if Plan B was successful in preventing implantation, we would expect it to be effective far longer than the well-established 72 hour window. I think I need not add that the final four paragraphs do not give an argument against Plan B, but are instead nothing more than a slander against advocates of access to emergency contraception. There is nothing inconsistent about advocating for access to emergency contraception and condemning brutal school shootings or infanticide. In these ways, Prof. Rice has oversimplified the issue, and manipulated his audience into associating Plan B with horrifying crimes.

Prof. Rice's caricature of sex as something men entice from women or something women deny them access to also shows further disrespect, for women's sexual agency. Women are not just objects of sexual desire, sitting around passively for men to conquer them, and feminists -- including some deeply Catholic theologians -- have argued for decades that this view of human sexuality is perverse and injust. Whatever else one thinks of abortion and contraception, to see them as means men use to "trick" women into having sex is to see women as incapable of having desires, interests, or taking action on their own.

On behalf of the Notre Dame/St. Mary's community as a whole, I would ask Prof. Rice to apologize for his column. I cannot speak for the women of our community, but I would encourage him to apologize to them as well.

Dan Hicks

MosBen said...

As a recent law school graduate, let me attest to the large body of law surrounding the word "rational". It's shocking, and more that a little bit terrifying, that Prof. Rice is teaching young lawyers when he clearly has no concept of what the word means.

Noumena said...

Well I'll be: they published it.

We'll see what kind of shitstorm erupts from this. I've gotten one email asking for my own sources. Along with the Populations Briefs link in the post, I also found this summary.

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