The U.S. should join the rest of the world: Teenagers are adults

The U.S. should join the rest of the world: Teenagers are adults

 May 2, 2013

The U.S. Justice Department’s decision to appeal Federal District Judge Edward R. Korman’s order Judge Edward R. Korman’s order that Plan B emergency contraception be made available without restriction to all women seeking it regardless of age reflects the Obama administration’s continuing pattern of irrational hostility toward young people.

Judge Korman’s strongly-worded order nullifying Health and Human Services Secretary Katherine Sebelius’s ban on Plan B for under-17 girls without prescriptions has afforded another chance for commentators—led by the White House—to vent disparagement and ignorance toward young people and what we mislabel “teen pregnancy.”

“As the father of two daughters, 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,” Obama declared in support of Sebelius.

Rejecting careful research by the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research and a host of medical associations, the president raised the specter of his daughters and other middle-and high-schoolers grabbing over-the-counter emergency contraception at drugstores like ” bubble gum and batteries.”

Does the president—who promised scientific evidence as the foundation of sound public policy—really think his daughters (ages 12 and 15) are so stupid that they would confuse emergency contraception with bubble gum? Or that his expressed lack of confidence in them—a sample size of two—is a valid basis for a policy afflicting America’s entire youth population?

Judge Korman, citing abundant research, demolished Sebelius’s decision as “obviously political,” since youngsters of any age can buy other OTC products, including far more lethal ones such as aspirin. Kids can die from choking on bubble gum.

According to the president’s “common sense,” a 14 year-old inner-city girl raped by her uncle should be forced, within a matter of hours, to find and pay a doctor (who, in most impoverished areas, will be many miles distant) who will agree to prescribe her emergency contraception—and if she can’t, it’s sound public policy to put her at heightened risk pregnancy and abortion or childbirth. Or that a 16 year-old who suffers a contraceptive failure should be forced to endure a pointless runaround the administration would not impose on a 36 year-old in the same circumstances.

It’s hard to credit the administration’s shallow jingoism toward teenagers and young people on a host of issues (including guns, violence, drugs, cyberbullying, rape, prescription drugs, and obesity) with sincerity, especially by a president otherwise reputed to respect science and respectful discourse. The president’s 1995 book, Dreams from My Father, lionized his own mother (pregnant with him at age 17 by a 23-year-old man) and other teenaged mothers as harboring positive values.

Rather, the president’s disparagement of young people coincides with his higher political ambitions and the cynical advice of his former Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel. As a congressional campaign strategist in 2005, Emmanuel advised Democrats to exploit fears and tough-sounding stances toward teenagers to forge a “moral values” image. Obama’s 2006 book, The Audacity of Hope, switches to deploring teens’ “endless sexual escapades” and blaming “teenage mothers” for causing poverty and “all sorts of problems.”

The president’s baffling alignment with social conservatives—who demand an absolutist sexual morality from teenagers that they don’t seem to expect of their own luminaries, such as Louisiana Senator David Vitter or former presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani, among many—also exposes a serious contradiction among progressive groups, whose destructive myths about “teen pregnancy’ have fueled 40 years of rising anger and bad policy.

“Teen pregnancy” debaters, left and right, have never been willing to acknowledge the facts that a lot more girls under age 15 are impregnated by adult men ages 21 and older than by peer boys; that most girls who “had sex” at younger ages actually were raped; and that pregnant teenagers are disproportionately likely to come from environments of severe poverty and family abuses.

The Obama White House has not proposed any comprehensive plan to reduce the United States’ epidemic of child and youth poverty. The president has never acknowledged—not even on the White House’s Domestic Violence webpage—the hundreds of thousands of substantiated cases of violent and sexual abuses inflicted on children and teenagers in their homes every year.

Recent reports and statements by the Centers for Disease Control and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy barely mention any male role in pregnancy at all. The pretense continues that teen girls are just ignorant and careless, in need of more adult sternness, lectures, and (in this case) politically-driven punishment.

It would be refreshing, and justified, for this president to stop bashing young people, respect the evidence, and declare: “I have every confidence that my own daughters, as well as your daughters and sons, will make responsible decisions about emergency contraception other important matters.”

The science—the FBI, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Centers for Disease Control, Monitoring the Future, Department of Education, and other key measures—all show the same trends: today’s young Americans may well be the safest and most sexually responsible generation ever.

The most recent figures show teen birth, abortion, miscarriage, and total pregnancy rates now stand at their lowest levels ever reliably recorded. So have rape, other sex crimes, and intimate partner violence among young people, which have plunged in the last 20 years among teenagers much faster than among adults.

Births by mothers age 19 and younger dropped by 200,000 over the last two decades, tracking the rising educational and economic achievements of young women that make marriage and motherhood increasingly disadvantageous. From 1990 to 2011, the numbers of women obtaining higher education degrees leaped by 190 percent—far outstripping men—with even more substantial increases among African (up 330 percent) and Hispanic (up 490 percent) American women.

Instead of another round of youth-bashing and punishing young people by subjecting them to higher risks of pregnancy, it’s time for an evidence-based change in attitudes toward young people, beginning with the White House. It’s time for progressive groups like Planned Parenthood to abolish the inaccurate, antiquated, prejudicial term, “teen pregnancy” and join the rest of the Western world in recognizing that adolescents are adults.

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