Article published Tuesday, August 16, 2005, at Tech Central Station.

An Organization Pregnant with Contradictions

By John R. Lott Jr. & April Dabney

Women's bodies are theirs to do what they want, but for the National Organization for Women (NOW) that only seems true as long as what the women want to do is politically correct. Despite NOW's rhetoric, the laws they have come out supporting the last couple of weeks appear to have more to do with forcing women to live the way NOW wants them to live then letting women have the freedom to make these decisions themselves.

In the last couple of weeks NOW has launched several campaigns, among them:

-- Some pharmacists have moral objections over selling the so-called "morning after pill." Even though there are virtually always other nearby pharmacists and that any chain store with such a pharmacist makes arrangements for someone else to fulfill the prescription, NOW believes that even that small inconvenience places too great of a burden on a woman's right to use her body as she sees fit, and thus such practices should be outlawed.

-- NOW is also fighting for a continued ban on silicone breast implants. They claim that the claimed health risks are just to great for women to be given the choice of using these implants.

Health concerns have been raised for both the pill and implants, but health concerns aren't really the problem here. Few products have been studied as extensively as breast implants. A Food and Drug Administration panel recently approved the use of some silicone breast implants, and silicone is used in numerous other medical devices. Comprehensive analyses from the UK Independent Review Panel on Silicone Gel Breast Implants (1998), the Institute of Medicine (1999), and the National Cancer Institute (2004) as well as journal publications such as Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (2004) have consistently found no health problems. Even when implants have ruptured, concerns about immunological or connective tissue diseases or cancers simply haven't been born out by the research.

In addition, NOW is still fighting the last war by pointing to anecdotal stories of problems the implants used during the 1970s and 1980s even though the technology has vastly improved since then. It is hard to see why anyone would think that the newer third and fourth generation implants, which have been used outside the U.S. since 1995, pose any risk. Unlike the earlier implants where the silicone was runny and had the consistency of motor oil, the newer substances are jellylike or have an even more stable consistency. With the fourth generation, rupture simply isn't relevant because the silicone won't spread.

There are also other benefits. The type of woman who gets breast implants tends to have high rates of suicide, but as Joseph McLaughlin, Ph.D., of the International Epidemiology Institute in Maryland notes, that it is seems that "without the implants, the suicide rate would be even higher." Most women who get the implants generally indicate that they are happier than they were prior to getting them.

Because of deaths from women taking the morning after pill, the FDA has ordered its highest-level warning placed on packages, but even there the risks of death are quite small (a total of five deaths in the US have been linked to the pill, though it was announced this week that more deaths are being investigated). The anecdotal deaths from this pill are much more tightly linked to the pill than is true for the anecdotal stories of problems from the implants, but NOW has never questioned making the pill as widely available to women as possible (even for young underage girls).

The costs and benefits to a woman from pregnancy seem much bigger than those from an implant, but that doesn't explain why we trust the judgment of a thirteen year old in deciding whether to take the morning after pill but not a twenty five year old who wants implants. There appears to be a general theme connecting NOW's positions that make it easier for women of all ages to avoid having kids and discourage them from trying to attract men.

One can even sympathize with NOW's argument that women shouldn't have to feel that they must go under the knife to be attractive. But women have no unique corner on this burden. News anchors get facelifts and politicians take Botox. Wall Street traders take Ritalin and everyone uses caffeinated drinks during work to stay alert and be more successful. Professional athletes sometimes undergo extensive surgeries to keep playing their sports.

If it makes television news viewers happier to watch a more youthful news anchor by more than the cost and discomfort from the surgery, what is so wrong with news anchors voluntarily getting the procedure? Would the country really be better off if we all didn't strive so hard to be the best at what we do?

Ironically, the same organization that says that a woman rights to make the decisions that affect her body when it comes to abortion are sacrosanct, says those same rights are irrelevant when the woman wants to put something in her body to make herself look and feel better. Possibly if NOW members were more confident of their arguments, they wouldn't feel it as necessary to mandate what women can and can't do.

John Lott is a Resident Scholar and April Dabney an assistant at the American Enterprise Institute.


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