Last week the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declared that the morning after pill (known as Plan B) was safe enough to be made available on request at pharmacies to all girls of reproductive age – even those under 16.
But Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human resources, rejected this recommendation – the first time anyone can remember a health secretary going against the advice of the FDA. She said that girls of ten could become pregnant and these had not been included in the safety trials, so therefore there was no guarantee that it was completely safe.
But, of course, many suspect that this is just an excuse. The real reason the Obama administration has rejected Plan B is to avoid a large-scale conflict with religious interests who have become increasingly noisy, demanding and politically manipulative in recent times. Such a confrontation is seen as particularly undesirable in an election year, when religion has once more moved to the top of the political agenda.
In The Global Herald op-ed by Archbishop Gennadius, a benign picture is painted of people adhering to Plan A (presumably celibacy) rather than having to resort to Plan B. Therefore this is no need for such a contraceptive. The soothing language and evocations of Christmas cannot conceal what is, at base, an authoritarian message.
But had the FDA’s recommendation been accepted, the Archbishop’s reaction would have been very different. The Catholic bishops were on red alert, ready to go into battle with the cry of “They are destroying religious freedom!”
It seems the removal of choice from the population as a whole is now seen as a “religious right” by the churches. It is a claim that scares politicians into decisions that are against the national interest.
According to the latest research, of the 758,000 pregnancies in girls who are teenage or younger that happen on average annually in America, 212 involve 12-year-olds or younger. The ban on Plan B seems therefore to have been based on these 212 people – or 0.0002%.
This is further proof that the influence of religion in US politics and policy making has become unhealthy and counter-productive. It demands that policy is implemented on the grounds of religious dogma rather than scientific evidence or even common sense. If it isn’t in the Bible, then it’s wrong – even if it does result in thousands of children and adolescents being burdened with pregnancies they cannot cope with and which they will probably, in many cases, terminate anyway.
If the USA permits this religious policy making to drive itself deeper and deeper into its body politic it will eventually invite rebellion. This theocratic approach will eventually go too far and the bishops who are successfully pushing it will reap a whirl wind of reaction – just as they did in Ireland.
The US constitution’s separation of religion from the state was a stroke of genius. It has protected US citizens for centuries from the horrors of theocracy. But that wall of separation is gradually being chipped away, fanaticism and irrationality now claim special privileges.
If the religious agitators succeed in eventually overwhelming the secularism that has served the US so well, the American people will be the losers.