Call him the Colbert/Clooney/Springsteen of the New York Times: If anyone consistently gets it, it's Nicholas Kristof.
And yesterday, what he got was this: "There's one thing Democrats and Republicans mostly agree on: it would be better if Americans had fewer abortions. The best way to reduce the number of abortions, in turn, would be to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies. Every year, Americans have three million unplanned pregnancies, leading to 1.3 million abortions. So it should be a no-brainer that we increase access to contraception, and in particular make the 'morning after' pill available over the counter. That would be the single simplest step to reduce the U.S. abortion rate, while also helping hundreds of thousands of women avert unwanted pregnancies." (Sorry, the story is Times Select only; hence this recap.)
Yeah, you'd think. But no. "President Bush's Food and Drug Administration has blocked that," he writes, "apparently fearing that better contraception will encourage promiscuity (specifically, as Broadsheet has reported, adolescent "sex-based cults"). "We may wince at the thought of a 15-year-old girl obtaining Plan B after unprotected sex," he writes. "But why does the White House prefer to imagine her pregnant?
Kristof pulls no punches here. Chastising what he calls the "libidophobes" (nice!) in the administration, he says: "Their opposition to Plan B amounts to a pro-abortion policy." Bingo. Say what you want about our country's slipping "morals" or the need for more purity balls; in no small part, you can trace our unwanted pregnancy rates right back to Washington. When it comes to comprehensive sex ed and availability of contraception -- that is, the lack thereof -- Kristof writes, "The White House frequently backs precisely the policies that cause America to have one of the highest abortion rates in the West."
But he also doesn't ignore necessary nuance. "Granted, making contraceptives available -- all kinds, not just Plan B -- presents a mixed message," Kristof writes. "We encourage young people to abstain from sex, and then provide condoms in case they don't listen. But that's because we understand human nature: We also tell drivers not to speed, but provide air bags in case they do." Removing the safety net makes no sense: "I suppose that if we replaced air bags with sharpened spikes on dashboards, people might drive more carefully -- but it still doesn't seem like a great idea."
His final zinger: "So let's give American women the same rights that they would have if they were Albanians or Tunisians, and make Plan B available over the counter. It's time for President Bush to end his policies that encourage abortions."
It's also time, we add ruefully, for Kristof not to have to spend his valuable column inches on no-brainers.