WJHU has decided to feature campus groups and magazines on the blog. Check out this recent article from JHU Politik, a weekly online campus magazine discussing recent political issues and varying viewpoints.
This article was originally published in the Oct. 1st issue of JHU Politik. Find out more at JHUPolitik.org
NYC’s BIRTH CONTROL PROGRAM: A SIGNIFICANT STEP IN THE EVOLUTION OF THE NANNY STATE
by Victoria Scordato ‘14, Layout Editor
Over the past week, news outlets all over the country have picked up a story about the New York City public school program that gives high school students free access to emergency contraception without parental consent. The controversy comes at a curious time, considering the program was first enacted in 40 schools more than 4 years ago and then expanded to another 13 last year. But now that it has been brought to the public’s attention, the dismayed reactions are rolling in.
Much of the controversy concerns access to Plan B, the hormone-based emergency contraception drug that is also known as the “morning-after pill.” Through the program, students have access to Plan B as well as regular monthly birth control pills and Depo Provera, another hormone-based contraceptive administered by injection once every three months. According to school administrators, parents are given a month-long window at the beginning of each school year to opt-out of the program, but only 1-2% do. After that, students can procure any of these drugs for free without parental consent.
This program raises a number of medical, legal, and political issues that have been hotly debated for years: the role of government in administering health care, women’s reproductive rights, sexual education curriculums, and many others. But ultimately this program, no matter its legal, political, or medical ramifications, is a distinct and significant step in the evolution of the “nanny state.”
It’s no coincidence that the program was enacted under Michael Bloomberg who, despite being elected as a Republican, is one of the most socially progressive mayors in the country. Many of his policies, including the new city law that bans the sale of sodas over 16 ounces, have been criticized as overly paternalistic by pundits on both sides of the aisle. But, the choice Bloomberg has now made for all New Yorkers had already been made for the city’s public school students nearly a decade ago when the mayor began enacting his ambitious plan to combat childhood obesity. Under Bloomberg’s plan, New York City public schools removed soda from vending machines, eliminated deep fryers, and cut the number of calories in school lunches so severely that, as of earlier this month, they didn’t meet the minimum number of calories required by USDA guidelines. In New York City public schools, students can now get prescription-level drugs, but neither Coke nor french fries.
This is important because, while New York’s birth control program hasn’t yet spread outside the region, its approach to school lunches has. In fact, Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act, a piece of federal legislation passed back in 2010 with new standards going into effect this year, stipulates that school lunches cannot exceed 850 calories and significantly reduces the amount of protein and carbohydrates that can be served to students in a given lunch period. As a result, stories have popped up all across the country, including in neighboring New Jersey, about students lashing back against these new guidelines through “brown bag” protests and social media campaigns. Students at one Kansas high school even created a video parodying the song “We Are Young” by replacing the lyrics with, “We are hungry.”
This all seems to indicate a trend of increased government involvement in areas previously thought to be the domain of the parent—like childhood nutrition. Hence the phrase “nanny state.” The belief that underlies this approach to politics is that, when faced with temptation, people can’t help themselves. As a result, the government must protect the people from themselves by legislating away their temptation. With his birth control program though, Bloomberg has taken this one step further by usurping the position of the parent entirely. He has effectively decided that young women across New York City, the same young women that can’t be trusted to not gorge themselves on cafeteria pizza, can make serious medical decisions without parental consent. His is the only consent they need. PP