Hugo Schwyzer, father of a daughter and a son, supports unfettered access to emergency contraception like Plan B.
The following is an opinion editorial on making Plan B, an emergency contraceptive, available over the counter. For a dissenting viewpoint, read Jason Bruce’s post, Is Plan B the Most Convenient Solution to Teen Sex?
On April 5, a federal judge ruled that “Plan B”—also known as the “morning-after pill” or emergency contraception—should be made available over-the-counter to women of all ages. On Wednesday, the Obama Administration appealed the ruling. Invoking his daughters, the President has said that while he supports reproductive rights for adult women, he wants access to EC to be restricted to those 17 and older.
Father to father, I want to tell the president that he’s wrong. As a dad to a daughter, as a college professor and sexuality educator, and as a veteran youth group leader who has worked with thousands of teens, I am convinced that every teenager deserves unfettered access to all forms of contraception—and that access should not be limited to those who are willing to notify a parent.
What’s the definition of a conservative?
A liberal with a teenage daughter.
It’s an old joke belied by the evidence that more often than not daughters make their daddies more liberal. That seems not to be the case with President Obama, whose penchant for “evolving” to the left on social issues doesn’t extend to full reproductive rights for his underage daughters.
My daughter Heloise is four and a half. She’s a young child, but I know well she’ll be a teen almost sooner than her mother and I can bear. Though she is still small, we remind her constantly that we love her unconditionally, and she can bring us her burdens and questions without fear of risking our disappointment. I want to believe that by the time Heloise and her brother hit adolescence, they’ll be certain enough of our support that they’ll bring us their most intimate concerns. I’d like to believe that before they have their first sexual experience with others, they’ll talk to us. I can promise that by the time puberty hits, they’ll have gotten the best, developmentally appropriate sex education a parent can give.
I know well that even kids who grow up with loving and liberal parents are still often reluctant to come to them with sexual questions. Several years ago, when I was a youth group leader at a local Episcopal church, one of the 16 year-olds came to me with news that she was 10 weeks pregnant. I knew her parents well; they were kind people with impeccable progressive credentials. “Jenny” wasn’t afraid of punishment if she told them she’d had sex and gotten pregnant; she was, however afraid of a lecture about her failure to use birth control. Not wanting to let them down, she turned for help and counsel to another trusted adult. I walked through the process with Jenny (I lent her money for the abortion) and her parents were never told. (California, unlike many states, does not have a parental notification requirement.)
That was before I had a child of my own. Since Heloise was born, I’ve often wondered how I’d feel if she were to find herself in Jenny’s position. Would I want her to come to me? With every fiber of my being. But if she couldn’t come to me, for whatever reason, I’m equally certain I wouldn’t want the state to compel her to do so. If she had concerns she couldn’t bring to her parents, I’d hope that she would find someone like, well, me—a teacher or a youth leader whose counsel she trusted. I would hope that if she chose abortion, that she would have easy access to a skilled medical provider—and to friends to support her through the process. Better yet, I want her to have access to the whole range of contraceptive options, including Plan B, that can reduce the likelihood of an unwanted pregnancy.
Heloise is not a teen. Yet I can see in her the woman she will someday become. I am fiercely protective of her as my vulnerable child. I know that she will, gradually, grow less and less vulnerable. When she came into this world, she bequeathed to her parents the guardianship of her autonomy. Because as a newborn, she could do nothing for herself, we were of necessity sovereign over her. From the time she could toddle however, she began to claim back the independence that is her birthright. Like so many children, her battle-cry is “I can do it myself!” Like so many children, it’s not entirely true the first few times she yells it. It becomes truer with practice.
Heloise is, to put it simply, already reclaiming what is rightfully hers. She is already beginning to take her parents’ vision of the world and test it against her own experiences and the messages she gets from her own soul. Our love for her will grow even as we slowly, sometimes anxiously, continue to relinquish back to her the agency that is her birthright. And by the time she is a teen, though she will have been on the receiving end of some first-rate sexual education, she will be making her own choices. We will counsel, we will advise, and we will surrender her to the God who made her. We know that God will speak to her most clearly not through our voices, but through the still, small voice that she will find inside of herself. There will be worry, no doubt, for her parents. That’s part of the job. But our fears will not trump her rights for long.
As the husband of a woman whom I watched give birth, as the father of a daughter whose umbilical cord I cut with awe, I am a thousand times more pro-choice today than I was before I watched the sonograms and held a tiny infant in my arms. Women and girls deserve to be safe. And safety requires that to the greatest extent possible, they remain sovereign over their choices, their bodies, their lives.
That belief in women’s agency is why I support unrestricted over-the-counter access to Plan B for my daughter and for women of all ages. I wish President Obama, who so clearly adores and admires his remarkable daughters, felt the same way.