On pushing the boundaries

In the post on gay marriage:


I claimed that:

The weakness of the Western societies is that all boundaries are constantly pushed using the leverage of human rights.

An educational example of this simple truth at work is the legal status of the morning after pill in the US. The idea of late contraception was always controversial for a number of reasons. Social conservatives claimed that it would encourage promiscuity. Some medical professionals believed it might blunt the “always use condom” message. For religious nuts it was an unacceptable interference in the process of procreation.

Despite the vocal public opposition the morning after pill (cleverly named “Plan B”) was made available in the US in 1999 by prescription to women 18 years and over. These restrictions were introduced to convince the voting population that the pill would only be used in exceptional circumstances – rapes, unwanted pregnancies – and only under medical supervision. But the sponsors of the morning after contraception kept pushing for easier access to the pill. They trotted the usual scenarios of women who cannot get to their GP, cannot afford a doctor etc.

As a result in 2006 the pill became available in the US over the counter. Curiously, it could be bought by any women or men over the age of 18 – I guess to exclude men would constitute gender discrimination. The reproductive rights brigade (with a generous support from the pill makers) kept lobbying and in 2009 the age limit was lowered to 17 (women 16 and younger required prescription). Then, in April 2013 a federal judge ordered that the morning after pill be made available to girls of any age, without prescription:


In his ruling, Judge Korman criticised the Obama administration’s justification, calling it “an excuse to deprive the overwhelming majority of women of their rights to obtain contraceptives without unjustified and burdensome restrictions”. (…) “Women all over the country will no longer face arbitrary delays and barriers just to get emergency contraception,” spokeswoman [for the Center for Reproductive Rights] Nancy Northup told Reuters news agency.

So there we have it – the decision allowing restricted use of the morning after pill in 1999, through a number of incremental steps, led to a free-for-all in 2013. The vehicle used to effect the change were the human (non-) reproductive rights.

Yesterday I heard my favourite radio talk-back show host, Leighton Smith, make a surprising announcement. Known in the past as a staunch social conservative, Leighton declared that he no longer opposes changes to the definition of marriage in New Zealand. He even said he would favour an immediate abolition of any restrictions which still exist to prevent polygamy, incest, zoophilia etc. When queried by the shocked callers he explained his stance. Once the premise that a marriage is between one man and one women who are not closely related has fallen, there is no defensible fallback position. All remaining restrictions will eventually be ground down so we may as well spare ourselves the tiresome spectacle and give up straight away.

This aligns nicely with my statement from the gay marriage post linked above:

To restore equality the definition of marriage will have to be further extended to include anyone at all who wants to get married. It is only a matter of time.


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