The Year in Reproductive Rights


Irin Carmon talks about the year in abortion rights, 2011. The fallout from Plan B continues, and the sexting hysteria was built on smoke and mirrors.

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Bill Johnson: secret sperm donor

“Up With Chris Hayes” covers the Plan B debacle

O’Reilly is not a convincing expert on child development

On this episode of Reality Cast, Irin Carmon will be on to discuss the year in choice politics. The Plan B fallout continues, and it turns out that sexting hysteria was built on nothing.

From the truth is stranger than fiction file comes this story out of New Zealand.

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Regular listeners will not be surprised to find out that Johnson is a conservative Christian who rails against same-sex marriage, amongst other things. Apparently, donating sperm is something of a sexual fetish for a small group of men. I would not be surprised if conservative Christians are over-represented in that group of fetishists.

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The fallout continues from the Obama administration throwing the finger to science and women’s health care concerns by refusing to allow the FDA to make Plan B emergency contraception over the counter to all without age restrictions. Most mainstream media coverage of this story has been cursory. I can see why; we’re in an economic recession, election season is about to start, and these are dark times. It’s hard to work this story into the news cycle. But the problem with giving the story only cursory attention is that it’s a really complex story. Audiences know pretty much nothing about it. Many think, incorrectly, that emergency contraception is like an abortion, when it works by preventing ovulation. Many people incorrectly think it’s more dangerous, or that it encourages teen sexual activity. In addition, there’s concerns about the administration overstepping their bounds. There was the outrageous sexism and the pandering. Lots to cover! So I was happy to see Chris Hayes host a roundtable on the issue on MSNBC. With Rebecca Traister, who is always the best! Rebecca went right after President Obama for his “gosh darn I don’t want my daughters buying Plan B” nonsense.

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There’s no doubt that sort of language resonates with much of America. The notion that teenage girls are basically property and that if they have sex, they are somehow broken is pervasive in America. It’s one of those beliefs that’s beyond reason in a very direct way. We believe this even though we were all teenagers once, and we all know from experience that teenagers aren’t children who can’t make basic decisions for themselves. We also know that the horrific double standard that allows boys to be sexual but shames and punishes girls for the same is wrong. But we don’t care. Logic doesn’t penetrate. But for those of us who aren’t engaged in the national hysteria about teen pregnancy, Obama’s condescending statements were crystal clear and incredibly sexist.

Believe it or not, it was Elise Jordan, who was a speechwriter for Condoleezza Rice, who actually pointed out that Obama was simply being dishonest when he tried to scare Americans with images of 11-year-olds having sex.

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Exactly. What’s been incredibly frustrating about this is that it continues to be assumed that this will somehow give you “permission” for sex. That is literally the dumbest thing I can think of, and not just because there’s no scientific data to show that is an effect. It’s because we already have a contraception that’s much cheaper and effective and sold over the counter. It’s called, you know, condoms. In fact, condoms are the favorite contraception of teenagers for that reason. Which is a good thing! They should be using condoms. It couldn’t be more obvious that the anxiety about this is strictly due to the fact that girls and girls alone control Plan B. I’ve seen people stretch and claim that this is bad because maybe some boy won’t use a condom some time, but again, the price and convenience issues really negate that argument. But it is true that this could spare a girl who has the misfortune to sleep with a cad who slips the condom off. I fail to see in what universe that would be a bad thing.

Hayes then brought Dr. Susan Wood on. Dr. Wood resigned from the FDA after the Bush administration blocked Plan B from over the counter sales for political reasons. She explained why Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has set a horrible precedent.

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In all the furor over this, that has been the least discussed and most troubling aspect. The Obama administration has basically stripped away the last protections that our various agencies have from having politics dictate all decisions. Eventually, there will another conservative Republican in office. Now that the last pretense that officials should put doing a good job ahead of politics has been stripped away, now what? EPA officials being told that there’s no such thing as pollution? The Department of Education being told to mandate creationism in classrooms? This is a very serious precedent.

Dr. Wood also demolished the whole argument that this decision does anything but make it very hard for those who need it to get Plan B.

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She then goes on to compare it to chewable bubblegum Tylenol, which has tons of warnings, costs a fraction as much, and comes with 24 pills in a packet, meaning that it would actually be possible to overdose and die, unlike with Plan B. The notion that there’s a single concern about the physical safety of girls because of this is just a plain lie.

There was a ton of goodness in this segment I didn’t have time to get to, such as when Hayes played a clip of Obama promising to put scientific information in front of political considerations, a promise that he thoroughly broke here. So seriously, check out the link in show notes and watch the whole thing.

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In the past couple of years, I’m sure you’ve been subjected to the moral panic over “sexting”, which is one of those words that is designed to make ordinary behavior seem way more scandalous than it is. The theory is that there’s a rash of horny teenagers sending nekkid pictures of themselves to each other, and eventually the world will be so awash in nekkid pictures of high schoolers that civilization will collapse. As moral panics go, it rated below hysteria over Elvis Presley swiveling his hips, but above claims that kids were exchanging slap bracelets for oral sex. The whole panic was fueled by suspicions that everyone who had gone through puberty but couldn’t vote yet was doing this. Well, surprise, surprise, it seems perhaps the panic was a little too panicked.

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Oh boy! A whole 30 seconds spent by the Early Show correcting the record. After months of heavy-handed stories about the evils of sexting and how your teenage daughter is probably sending every boy in school pictures of her vagina right this second. I feel like it needs a little more in terms of a rebuttal. For instance, they didn’t discuss the details, such as pointing out that most of the kids who had sent or received suggestive texts or pictures were either just talking or sending porn they got from somewhere else. Not ideal, I guess, but if seeing dirty pictures before you turn 18 was ruinous for kids, my entire generation would be a waste. I think it’s wise to tell your kids about the potential ramifications of sending naked pictures of themselves around on phones, but let’s be clear. The more you panic about it, the more dangerous and rebellious the behavior seems, and thus the more likely kids are to do it. So it’s wise not to blow this out of proportion.

Compare that calm, reasonable and let me remind you, short correction to the record with the coverage of sexting from a couple of years ago, when the panic first began.

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Not just sexting, but a sexting ring! You know, like a drug ring or a prostitution ring. We don’t usually use the word “ring” to mean non-criminal or normal behavior. No one ever says, “Today a YouTube swapping ring was discovered in Boston, Massachusetts, with as many as 20 individuals implicated in a plot to swap cat videos and jokes from Funny or Die.”

Or compare the calm rebuttal to Elisabeth Hasselbeck’s report on sexting, which was about as calm and rational as she usually is, which is never.

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Surprising that a parent wouldn’t want their kid thrown in jail because they were an awkward adolescent engaging in a little thoughtless flirtation. And gosh, do you think the non-stop TV coverage claiming that all teenagers are making at-home pornography might have some relationship to the readiness of teenage boys to ask for these  pictures? I mean, if you’re a teenage boy and the news tells you that literally all of your classmates are getting naked pictures of girls sent to them on their phone, it’s just a matter of time before you start making requests of your own. It’s not cool, but that’s how our teenage boys are socialized. Instead of making sexuality the villain, how about thinking long and hard about how it is we teach our boys to treat girls with so little respect and dignity. Instead of worrying that girls are sexual, why aren’t we worrying that boys take intimate moments and use them to gain bragging rights with their friends at the expense of their girlfriends?

Anyway, it seems from the polling that girls aren’t so very stupid as the media would have you believe. And kids aren’t so very crazy. So with that, I’ll leave you with an excellent moment from last year’s “Saturday Night Live”.

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And now for the Wisdom of Wingnuts, your sexual fantasies simply aren’t reality edition. O’Reilly, like many conservatives, really doesn’t understand that gay is a sexual orientation, not a free license to rub loofahs on whoever you want in front of the children. A little boy confronted Michele Bachmann about gay marriage, because his mom is gay, and O’Reilly is angry.

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O’Reilly thinks an 8-year-old is roughly as smart as a preverbal infant, then. When I was 8, if you had asked me if my mom liked boys or girls,  I am fairly certain I could give you an answer. I understood heterosexuality perfectly well, since straight people were, uh, flaunting it all the time with their hand-holding and weddings and kisses and what not. The reality is that kids understand sexual orientation fine. They don’t understand sex, maybe, but they understand love and affection and preference perfectly well. The only reason to doubt that is if you can’t look at gay people without thinking about the sex they’re having. But kids, and mature adults, can get past that. It’s only weirdoes like O’Reilly who can’t.


Follow Amanda Marcotte on twitter: @amandamarcotte