Playing Body Politics
BY FELICE LAMPERT
A war has been declared on public health. The aggressors are our state politicians.
Gov. David Beasley's onerous request last month to suspend condom distribution through the state health department because it violated his "pro-family philosophy" was wrong. The good news is that DHEC reinstated the program, at least temporarily, despite the governor's request.
South Carolina ranks fourth nationally in cases of gonorrhea and infectious syphilis. Every day, 32 teens become pregnant in this state, which also ranks eighth in the number of women contracting HIV.
Condom usage is a proven family planning method and should be available for all sexually active South Carolinians. Condoms have been shown by every major medical research organization to be extremely effective in preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease.
To deny citizens this protection is, ironically, the real immorality. The governor should not be allowed to restrict condom access because of pressure from extremist religious groups. The governor, unfortunately, is not alone in his narrow views regarding women's reproductive rights.
Attorney General Charlie Condon's most recent policy to prosecute physicians who perform a rare, late-term abortion procedure is clearly an attempt to play politics at the expense of women in South Carolina.
In his sensationalized campaign to ban this procedure, he callously dismissed the tragedy of a woman faced with grave health concerns or a fetus with severe anomalies. How can he, in good conscience, force any woman to carry to term a fetus that will die at birth or to continue a pregnancy that jeopardizes her life?
"Condon is interfering with the practice of medicine and the physician/patient relationship by telling physicians how they may perform this procedure," said Dr. Carol Nichols, president of the South Carolina Medical Association.
What's more, the state General Assembly will soon consider a bill which seeks to repeal the Comprehensive Health Education Act. Planned Parenthood urges legislators to vote against the measure.
Health education in schools, which includes abstinence-based teen pregnancy programs, is essential in delaying the onset of sexual activity and decreasing high-risk behaviors among teens.
With one of the highest rates of pregnancy in the Southeast, and with the seventh-worst teen pregnancy rate in the country, intensive education and peer support are crucial in South Carolina.
Prevention efforts in this state will not succeed if we are held hostage by religious political extremists who want to establish ineffective abstinence-only initiatives.
What is needed is the kind of responsible sex education that promotes abstinence but also provides teens with accurate information on how to prevent unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.
Opponents of reproductive rights have adopted an insidious strategy, a steady erosion of women's hard-fought gains in controlling their bodies and lives, by pushing incremental restrictions on access. This is taking place against a backdrop of fear and intimidation as doctors and clinics face bombing attacks.
It is time for Americans to wake up and defend their right to privacy, to make responsible medical decisions, and to do so without governmental interference.
This year, the most fitting way to com-memorate the Roe v. Wade anniversary would be to recognize that those who cherish the values of privacy, responsibility and choice must work to protect reproductive rights.
Increasing access to contraception should be our national priority as we seek to prevent unwanted pregnancy. But we must also work to defend reproductive rights from a narrow-minded minority who want to render the right to choose meaningless.
Felice Lampert is director of public affairs at Planned Parenthood of South Carolina.