Condoms or Compassion

It's nearly midnight and a child is in trouble. Dad dashes to the old station wagon and cranks it up, mentally calculating where to find a drug store open at this time of night. Is it cold medicine he needs for his child, or something to bring a fever down? No, what Dad needs are condoms. At least that's the way the nominee for Surgeon General seems to imagine things. Dr. Joycelyn Elders is quoted in an Arkansas newspaper saying, "I don't known of any parent who wouldn't go out at midnight and try to find contraceptives to start their children properly." Well, parents who really care would not be buying contraceptives, it seems to me: They'd be teaching their children the virtue of chastity. But Elders thinks condoms are fundamental to public health. As director of the Arkansas Health Department, Elders distributed more than a million condoms a year. She keeps a pot on her desk labeled "Ozark Rubber Plant," its stalks decorated with curled condoms. What good has all this condomania done for Arkansas? Not much. When Elders took office the state's teen birth rate was fourth highest in the nation. Two years later it had risen to second highest. Rates of unwed pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease increased as well. Her supporters portray Joycelyn Elders as a compassionate woman who just wants to help the poor. But I submit that her policies actually express contempt for the very people she is trying to help. Instead of challenging people to clean up their behavior, Elders relies on medical devices—like condoms and contraceptives—to accommodate destructive behavior. For example, last year the Arkansas Health Department distributed condoms that turned out to be defective—10 times more defective than the rate legally allowed. And failed condoms can lead to AIDS. Did Elders recall the defective condoms or publicize the danger? No, she hushed it up. It seems nothing must undermine the message that medical devices are the solution to teen pregnancy and AIDS. Even more revealing is her suggestion for "helping" prostitutes. Elders wants the government to give them Norplant, an under-the-skin contraceptive that works for five years. That way, she says, prostitutes "could still use sex if they must to buy their drugs." These are chilling words. Elders is talking about women who are doubly trapped—first in drug addiction, second in prostitution. But does she say, Let's help free them from their addictions? Does she say, Let's show them a better way to live? No. Instead she offers a medical device to make their double trap a little easier to live with. In essence she is telling these women, "You're not worth trying to save, go ahead and destroy yourself. Just don't reproduce yourself." This is no way to help the poor. For government to subsidize self-destructive behavior is not compassion; it's contempt. Senator Don Nickles of Oklahoma and Senator Dan Coats of Indiana have fought valiantly against the Elders nomination, and have succeeded in delaying it a month. You might want to take this time to let your senators know how you feel. Because if she's confirmed, Joycelyn Elders will be planting Ozark Rubber Plants all across America. And in my book, that's a deadly weed.


Chuck Colson


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