A holy war against protecting girls

Published: Thursday, January 11, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 10, 2007 at 2:13 p.m.
Whenever the federal government - especially given its current ideological inclinations - steps up to ''help'' girls and women, I get nervous. Especially when a preventable threat to our health has anything to do with having sex.
Is the aim really to protect sisters and daughters from disease and danger? Or is Big Daddy more concerned with controlling the morals of girls possibly gone wild?
We saw it in the disingenuous flimflamery that held over-the-counter sales of the morning-after pill hostage years after it was certifiably safe. When the surgical masks at the FDA finally slipped, we saw that the worry was about women's behavior, not the health effects of Plan B.
Now state governments are again having their arms twisted and ears bent by the national lobbyists and leaders of the religious right over the issue of vaccinating girls against the potentially deadly human papillomavirus, or HPV.
Last year the USDA approved the first preventative HPV vaccine to be given in three injections over a span of six months. It's recommended for females ages 9 to 26 and particularly aimed at not-yet-sexually active girls 11 to 13.
You've probably seen the ads featuring girls and women vowing to be ''one less'' - meaning one less to contract the kind of HPV that can kill via cervical cancer.
Most (74 percent) of the 6 million new cases of HPV each year occur among 15- to 24-year-olds. While most immune systems fight off the infection, about 19 varieties of HPV - some lingering undetected - lead to cancer. Do you want to roll the dice with your daughter? Or, with the relative ease of a chicken pox shot, would you prefer to protect her from ominous possibility?
Several recent surveys, including one cited in New Scientist, show that 80 percent of parents favor vaccinating their daughters against HPV. And those parents who happen to live in Washington state should count themselves lucky. Our governor -- the mother of two girls -- included coverage of HPV vaccinations in the $26.2 million for childhood immunizations in her just-proposed operating budget.
Mandated vaccines are established by the state Board of Health. So, once the budget is saluted by the House and Senate, vaccinations of 11-year-old girls should be covered, although how and when they'll be required and supplied is still unclear. Like other immunizations, will they be needed to attend public school?
Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, already had started exploring the idea of sponsoring legislation to require the immunizations before the governor's budget was unveiled. Now, as a new member of the Health and Long-Term Care Committee, she'll be in a position to help hammer out the details.f-z But gird your loins, ladies. The ''concern'' of the religious right is hungry and requires frequent feeding.
Already a bill is under attack that mandates, or at least strongly suggests, coverage of the vaccine in California for all girls entering the sixth grade.
According to the California-based ''pro-family group,'' Campaign for Children and Families, the debate down yonder is really about ''risk avoidance, promiscuity, informed consent and parental rights.''
''The development of the HPV vaccine is forcing medical providers and the news media to finally acknowledge the truth -- that cervical cancer is a sexually transmitted disease,'' says a pet pediatrician of the group, Dr. Jane Anderson of San Francisco.
Was anyone trying to hide the fact that HPV is sexually transmitted? Or that, if you don't have sex you don't get it?
A recent Christian Newswire story is correct in saying that, ''The surest way to eliminate the risk for future genital HPV infections is to refrain from any genital contact with another individual.''
But those of us who live and raise children here on Earth realize that abstinence until the age of 26, or even 18, is rare. And, here in the real world, we'd like to protect our kids with more than fear and wagging fingers.
As Katha Pollit wrote in The Nation, it's just plain cruel if not crazy to believe it's better for a woman to get cancer than for her to have sex before marriage. She calls it ''honor killing on the installment plan.''
Let's hope that, once back in session starting next week, our state Legislature approves the budgeted money to pay for the kind of help from the government a girl really needs.

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