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Nicholas Kristof’s Birth Control Advice Hurts Women And Demeans The Poor


Nicholas Kristof titled his recent New York Times column “She’s 17 and needs birth control,” but given the rise of domestic sex trafficking and the proliferation of sexual exploitation of teens in our nation, a more fitting title might be “She’s 17 and being sexually exploited.” I should know. I was a teen girl who got “help” at a reproductive health clinic, which only concealed my abuse by a much older man.

Ironically, the “no questions asked” reproductive services provided at some women’s health clinics do nothing to prevent this kind of abuse, and may in fact prolong it. Kristof’s article unwittingly provides an example of how easily young women’s exploitation goes unchecked. The health-care visit he describes fails to provide much in the way of true health care.

Kristof portrays a 17-year-old girl’s visit to a family planning clinic that also provides abortion. A grandmotherly nurse practitioner tests the teen for infections of various sorts and advises her to use a condom, adding, “If he doesn’t want to use a condom… he’s not worth it.” She also persuades the teen to have a long-acting reversible contraceptive (LARC) implanted in her arm so she can continue her risky behavior with less likelihood of pregnancy.

Do Poor People Deserve Population Control?

No mention is made of this underage girl being asked about her partner, how old he is, or what pressures she might be under to continue in one or multiple sexual relationships. Neither does our grandmotherly nurse mention the side effects associated with these hormone-emitting LARCs, some of which have been linked to increased risk of stroke, heart attack, and blood clots. No worries, though, as we can assume this teenager would have to sign a consent form to release the clinic from responsibility in the event of health problems down the road.

This, according to Kristof, is the epitome of health care. Obscuring the fact that there are dozens of community health centers in every state that provide the full range of women’s health care without participating in abortion, Kristof claims that denying tax money to abortion providers would result in the loss of “critical health services.”

But perhaps the services many of these agencies offer are less about women’s health than about controlling the birth rate of the poor. Kristof himself provides a cost-benefit analysis, saying, “An IUD or implant… costs about $1,000, while a single Medicaid birth costs the public about $13,000.” But the beneficiary of money spent on birth control is the clinic and the pharmaceutical industry, not the woman. The savings for one less child on Medicaid go to the state, while federal tax money pours into the clinic via Title X funding and family planning grants. This flow of cash seems to help everyone but the patient.

Contraception and Abortion Can Hide Deeper Problems

This model of health care, which so often fails to protect young women while promoting abortion and birth control, has been around for a while. As a young teen in 1973, I went to an early version of just such a clinic. The nurse did not ask about the man involved in my unplanned pregnancy. If she had, she might have learned that I was the 15-year-old victim of statutory rape by a 38-year-old man. She might have discovered that I was seeking an abortion to escape this situation. She might have found help for me. But no questions were asked.

If my parents had been informed, they may have been able to help me deal with the pregnancy and the molester. But instead, the clinic knowingly allowed an acquaintance to sign the consent form permitting me to be sent out of state for an abortion without my parents’ knowledge or consent.

The life-altering event that took the life of my first child left me with a deep misconception about love, sex, and responsibility that led me down a dark path for years to come. No one among my peers or in that clinic ever suggested that I had been victimized and needed to be protected. Instead, I was made to feel that the whole traumatic incident could have been avoided by using contraception.

I learned the “lesson” well. In future relationships, I made sure to use artificial contraceptives, promising myself to never again be so careless as to get pregnant. Sadly, contraceptives did nothing to keep me safe from STDs, heartbreak, abuse, and eventually another unplanned pregnancy while using birth control, followed by the very thing I promised myself would never happen again: another abortion.

While the loudest voices in the media keep telling us that contraception prevents abortion, the facts compiled by Planned Parenthood’s own research arm, the Guttmacher Institute, show that more than half of unplanned pregnancies resulting in abortion occurred while the mother was using contraception in the previous month. This, together with my own experience, convinces me of the failure of birth control to reliably prevent abortion. The false sense of security that comes with birth control use can lead to continued risky behavior.

Women Deserve So Much More Than This

It took me many years to learn what the women’s clinic in 1973 failed to teach me. Eventually I discovered the truth: each of us is meant to be loved and cherished. Human beings long for relationships that are loving and giving, rich and deep, and even self-sacrificing.

As mothers, we are meant to give our lives for our children, not to take their lives in abortion. Fathers are meant to protect and care for those they love, especially their children. We are all meant to have respect for our bodies, and to nourish ourselves with healthy, natural, and curative medicines, not to inundate our bodies with artificial hormones.

If I, a “grandmotherly,” post-abortive, wounded and healed woman, could speak to Kristof’s 17-year-old girl, I would tell her this: If you are being coerced, abused, molested, or raped, I can get help for you. If you are in a relationship with someone who doesn’t love you, isn’t ready or willing to commit to you in marriage, and isn’t willing to protect you from the harm that comes from casual sex, he isn’t worth it.

You deserve to be treasured, not used. You are worthy of love. Do not accept anything less.