Health issues run afoul of social conservatives

November 22, 2005|By SUSAN REIMER

And now, the news. Blood boiling, head scratching and letters to members of Congress, strictly optional.

Target has decided to stand by a company policy that allows its pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control, including the so-called morning-after pill.

This is the company that wants to be the go-to place for all those young people setting up housekeeping for the first time.

Target's target audience -- those 18- to 34-year-olds with freshly minted credit cards and apartments and houses to fill -- probably also has prescriptions to fill.

According to Planned Parenthood, 98 percent of American women use birth control at some time during their reproductive years. No word from Target on how old the company thinks most of those women are.

An eagerly awaited vaccine that would protect against cervical cancer, which strikes more than 10,000 American women each year, has set off a new clash between health professionals and social conservatives.

The vaccine, which will not be available until next year, would protect women against strains of the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus, or HPV, which can cause cancerous lesions on the cervix.

Health providers want the vaccine to become part of the regular roster of shots girls are required to receive before puberty, but social conservatives fear that this would send a message to teens condoning sexual activity.

This is derivative of the argument that if you don't make birth control available to teens, they will not have sex.

Or, as Alan Kaye, executive director of the National Cervical Cancer Coalition, said: "Just because you wear a seatbelt doesn't mean you are seeking out an accident."

The Food and Drug Administration is recommending a new series of labels for condoms, warning that they "do not eliminate" the risk of some sexually transmitted diseases.

The FDA appears to be responding to pressure from social conservatives and religious groups that believe that condoms encourage promiscuous behavior.

Meanwhile, public health groups argue that such warnings would discourage the use of condoms and, therefore, increase the likelihood of unprotected sex and resultant pregnancy and disease.

Heather Boonstra, health policy analyst for the Alan Guttmacher Institute, also employed the seatbelt analogy when arguing that a burdensome amount of information on condom wrappers would discourage their use.

"We tell people to buckle up," she told the Los Angeles Times. "We don't tell them they could get hurt in the gut."

Lawmakers in Annapolis plan to introduce legislation that would make "downblousing" and "upskirting" illegal.

These phrases refer to taking secret pictures or video with a cell phone and then, perhaps, broadcasting the images on the Internet.

Punishment might include a year in jail or a fine of up to $2,500. Similar legislation was proposed last year, but died in the last days of the legislative session.

Those supporting such laws acknowledge that enforcement might be difficult. The perpetrator would have to be caught in the act or, presumably, the victim would have to be able to identify her underwear on the Internet.

And in more underwear news:

The Chinese are offering a degree in brassiere studies at Hong Kong's Polytechnic University, and China's biggest lingerie manufacturer, Top Form, has a bra lab in its factory.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Top Form, which makes more than 60 million bras a year for the likes of Victoria's Secret, Playtex and Maidenform, has been experimenting with paddings, including air, oil and the fiberfill used in ski parkas.

Meanwhile, Japan has unveiled a furry, heated bra as part of a national campaign urging workers to bundle up and save energy this winter.

The bra has removable pads that can be heated in a microwave or hot water. And it has long, furry straps that wrap around the neck like a scarf, as well as matching shorts.

The ads for the Warm Biz Bra make this claim: "Warm Biz lets you add a little fun and chic to office wear, and prevents global warming."

susan.reimer@baltsun.com

To hear audio clips of selected Susan Reimer columns, go to baltimoresun.com/reimer.

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