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Now birth control, too'

Other editors say

Not satisfied with abstinence-only, some would restrict contraceptives

Los Angeles Times

Only 40 years ago, within the memory of millions of Americans, birth control could not be legally sold in some states, even to married couples. If President Bush and his allies in Congress are successful, the future could look much like that past.

For some Bush supporters, religious beliefs about when life begins or about interfering with natural law justify limiting access to common forms of birth control. The motivation for others may be disapproval of sex outside of marriage ' by adults as well as teens. Whatever the impetus, the emerging results are astonishing.

As part of abstinence-only sex education, which the president champions and taxpayers now fund to the tune of &

36;170 million annually, U.S. teens are being taught a bunch of hooey. A recent congressional report found the program's materials warn that touching another's genitals can result in pregnancy and that condoms fail to prevent HIV transmission one-third of the time. Actually, studies find that condoms are nearly always effective in blocking HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases if used properly (and we hope we don't need to refute the first assertion).

Giving teens false and misleading information is bad enough. More pernicious is the administration's reluctance to back international AIDS prevention programs that distribute condoms, a reluctance that could cost millions of Asians and Africans their lives. The policy is utterly inexplicable, unless it is to placate those who think condoms could encourage adults to have sex.

The same logic is behind refusal laws. Twelve states now allow pharmacists who oppose contraception to refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control, including the morning-after pill. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., plans to reintroduce his bill from last year to extend that right nationwide.

— The religious right's fingerprints also can be seen on the Justice Department's first-ever guidebook, released last fall, on treating sexual assault victims. It is an otherwise laudable effort to help win more rape cases, outlining in 140 graphic pages the best practices for evidence collection, forensic analysis and victim support. For instance, six pages detail testing protocols for sexually transmitted disease, treatment and psychological counseling.

But the section on Pregnancy Risk Evaluation and Care is a scant half-page of euphemisms and generalities. Omitted from the final version was draft language about the effectiveness of emergency contraception in preventing pregnancy.

The morning-after pill acts by impeding ovulation, fertilization and implantation. To most doctors, it is not a method of abortion. But those who believe that life begins at conception think it is, and Justice officials apparently are seeking to appease them.

So, it seems, is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is stalling a decision on whether to make the morning-after pill available nationwide without a prescription. Opponents claim that easy access would encourage promiscuity, despite data to the contrary from states such as California, where the pill is more freely available.

Surely this backward future is not what most Bush supporters thought they voted for last fall.