See all our coverage of the Administration’s 2011 Emergency Contraception Reversal here.
This article was changed at 12:05 pm on Tuesday, December 13th. The original mis-identified the author. It is Jessica Gonzales-Rojas. We apologize for the error.
Last month a ten-year-old girl in Puebla, Mexico gave birth, via c-section, to a premature infant. The girl says her stepfather raped her repeatedly. She only spoke out about the abuse after she gave birth when the glare of public attention gave her some measure of safety. Her stepfather immediately disappeared. This story has received wide attention in the Spanish language press and has sparked anger across Latin America.
I immediately thought of the girl from Puebla last week when President Obama expressed concern that an 11-year-old might go to a drugstore and purchase emergency contraception along with “bubble gum and batteries” because the drug could “have an adverse effect.” The image of a young child casually purchasing birth control was used to describe the “common sense” reasoning behind his administration’s refusal to allow the FDA to make emergency birth control available to young women below the age of seventeen. President Obama invoked the image of his daughters when discussing the drug store scenario, but I imagined the girl from Puebla, standing at the checkout counter with birth control, bubble gum and batteries in her hands. The profound injustice of her life brought me to tears, and the trivialization of her situation, as if girls at age ten would be purchasing birth control with the same weight that they would purchase the bubble gum, is enraging.
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Whether President Obama was compelled to weave the bubble gum narrative for political gain or because it truly reflects his thinking, the result is the same. Complex sexual health issues get overly simplified, society focuses on stigma more than solution, and young people are left with policy decisions that don’t begin to match the weight of their lived experiences nor keep them “safe.”
What is repeatedly lacking in our narratives about adolescent sexual health is a human rights perspective. If our society were to seriously contemplate how to help children who are victims of sexual abuse, it would not be to make birth control access harder for teens. This tunnel vision ignores the complex social factors that foster abusive environments, and ignores the dignity and justice that every child deserves.
A real discussion about emergency contraception would focus on addressing the real needs of teens. Yet due to the structural barriers that our politicians and healthcare industry have erected, most Latina teens will not realistically be given this last chance to prevent an unintended pregnancy. More than any other racial or ethnic group, Latinas lack health insurance and their households struggle economically. Teens without health insurance or money will need to seek out a healthcare provider to write a prescription, collect the $50 for the co-payment to fill the prescription, and to take the pills within three days of unprotected intercourse. Furthermore, Latina teens that encounter additional barriers due to their immigration status or limited English-language proficiency are even more isolated. No one reasonably believes this is a recipe for success.
There has always been strong political interference in FDA rule making about emergency contraception. Politicians simply can’t let scientists and public health experts do what’s best for our young people. That’s why years ago the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health was a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit (Tummino v. Hamburg), which resulted in the court directing the FDA to make emergency contraception available to teens age seventeen and above. And that’s why today our lawyers from the Center for Reproductive Rights will be back in federal court fighting against the continued political interference in healthcare access for younger teens.