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Shawn Vestal: ‘Are you a virgin?’ is not civil discourse

Q: Are you a virgin?

A: Are you insane?

There is something about a teenage girl talking about birth control that drives a certain kind of thinkers straight out of the underbrush and into the open, where they reveal more clearly than usual just whose business they think that girl’s private life is.

It is their business. The business of these certain kind of thinkers, I mean. The sexual status of a teenage girl is their parents’ business and their pastor’s business and their principal’s business and their lawmakers’ business, a subject of shared ownership between the girl and the community. And if, empowered by their understanding that any teenage girl’s private life is their business, they find they are unable to comport themselves within certain shared norms of decency, then, well, they’re sort of sorry about that.

Kinda sorry.

Mary Dye, a Pomeroy Republican serving in the state House of Representatives, has apologized – ish – for asking a group of Pullman teens who were lobbying for Planned Parenthood if they were virgins, and apparently suggesting that one was not. In Dye’s formulation, this failure to mind her own business was “motherly” and part of a discussion about “empowerment.”

“In hindsight, a few of the thoughts I shared, while well-intended, may have come across as more motherly than what they would expect from their state representative,” Dye said in a written statement. “If anything I said offended them or made them feel uncomfortable, I apologize.”

On Monday, the group of six or so Pullman-area teens were in the state Capitol for Planned Parenthood’s annual Teen Lobbying Day. They were urging Dye to support a measure to expand insurance coverage for birth control.

In case you were wondering, Dye does not support that measure.

The Planned Parenthood contingent was understandably taken aback by Dye’s intrusive questions. It would have been amusingly appropriate if one of them had asked her a question that was none of their business in return: Do you drink your own bathwater? Because it kind of seems like you might drink your own bathwater …

Instead, they were merely shocked silent.

Rachel Todd, a Planned Parenthood worker who was part of the group, told the Seattle Times, “I’ve never been in any type of meeting, especially with teens, where an adult, especially an adult legislator, was so incredibly disrespectful and inappropriate.”

Todd clearly wasn’t in the room eight years earlier when a similar contingent of teenagers, also representing Planned Parenthood, received an audience with then-state-Rep. John Ahern. Ahern badgered the teens by repeatedly asking them how many babies they’d killed. One of the teens’ parents characterized his behavior as “verbally abusive.”

There is something more than mere rudeness at work here. Opponents of Planned Parenthood are continually working against abortion, of course, and the issue of teenagers and abortion occupies a special place in the argument: Anti-abortion groups press hard to give parents more authority over their daughters’ choices, restrictions that can leave teens without access to birth control and health services. Many states have parental notification laws for abortion, and legislative Republicans proposed the same for Washington last year. Others have proposed extending such notification to birth control.

If you love the idea of forcing a teenager to become a mother against her will, these are wonderful proposals. A Journal of the American Medical Association study in Wisconsin found that 47 percent of teenage girls who obtained birth control at a clinic said that if they were required to notify their parents to seek contraceptives, they would avoid all reproductive services.

Ninety-nine percent of those surveyed said they’d continue to have sex.

And yet many who view Planned Parenthood as the Fourth Reich accept the plausibility of an entire population of celibate teens, governed by wise parents and legislators keeping watch over their purity. In this view, contraception is actually part of an ingenious long game by Planned Parenthood to create more teen abortions.

Here’s the scenario, as laid out by the Minnesota Citizens for Life:

“Easy access to free and confidential contraceptives makes yielding to the temptations of sex much easier, particularly for a spontaneous teen. Once sexually active, a teenager is ‘hooked’ by Planned Parenthood as another client for its ‘family planning’ services. However, we all know that no contraceptive is 100 percent reliable. Every method has a failure rate (except for abstinence); therefore, unintended pregnancies will result. Contraceptive failures guarantee clients for Planned Parenthood’s more lucrative abortion business.”

Crazy like a fox: Give teenagers birth control so they will have abortions!

Dye’s rudeness was probably an inadvertently good lesson for the Pullman teens. If they are interested in politics, especially in the politics of reproductive rights and abortion, they are going to confront zealous failures of civility and logic.

But perhaps they could learn a better lesson from another lawmaker: Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler. Schoesler is a pro-life Republican from Ritzville, and yet, somehow, he managed to occupy the same room as these teens from Pullman without inquiring about their virginity or calling them baby-killers.

“I handled it,” Schoesler said, “like a normal meeting.”

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.

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