Commentary

Who’s Pro-Choice Now?

Feminist groups have come out against a woman’s right to control her body. No, it’s not April Fool’s Day, and the story didn’t appear in the satirical paper The Onion.

The Food and Drug Administration held a three-day meeting to discuss lifting the 13-year-old ban on silicone gel breast implants. Groups such as the National Organization for Women and the Feminist Majority Foundation lined up to demand that the FDA keep the ban.

“We strongly urge the FDA not to approve silicone gel breast implants,” NOW president Kim Gandy told the FDA’s scientific advisory panel. When the panel recommended by a 5-4 vote to continue the ban, Gandy called it “a tremendous victory for women’s health.”

But what about a woman’s right to choose? Wasn’t NOW founded on the principle of a woman’s right to control her own body?

When an implant wearer told feminist protesters that “women need choices,” Gandy responded, “Choice? The choice is to be sick.”

Gandy wasn’t alone. The National Women’s Health Network and the National Council of Women’s Organizations also petitioned the FDA to maintain its ban.

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) says of abortion, “I am not a doctor, and I am not God. I trust other human beings to make these decisions.” But she has written to the FDA asking it not to allow women to get silicone implants. Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Center for Policy Research for Women and Families, complains, “The FDA has placed more emphasis on providing choices to patients, rather than the previous emphasis of keeping potentially unsafe products off the market.”

But the “women’s groups” don’t speak for all women, as was apparent at the emotional FDA hearing. Implant wearers argued heatedly. Some told horrific stories or their own or others’ experiences. Others asked for the right to get implants, saying for instance, “We all deserve to feel beautiful, and if not beautiful, at least normal.”

“We have a right to decide what is right for our own bodies,” said Virginia Silverman of California, who received gel implants in 2001 and found alternative implants uncomfortable.

The FDA’s nine scientific experts split on whether to allow the implants, voting 5-4 to continue the ban on implants made by Inamed Corp. and 7-2 to lift the ban on Mentor Corp.’s implants. That makes it difficult to predict the FDA’s eventual decision. Sally Satel, an M.D. and psychiatrist at the American Enterprise Institute, concludes that the best studies show the implants are reasonably safe.

Earlier this year feminist groups were calling for quick action by the FDA to approve a morning-after pill that would prevent pregnancy after unprotected intercourse. The Feminist Majority Foundation denounced the FDA for “once again [giving] in to right-wing pressure in deciding to delay its decision.”

No drug or medical procedure is without risk. Not abortion, not breast implants, not the morning-after pill. The question is who makes the decision. One answer is “it’s a woman’s right to control her body.” Apparently that’s only the feminist answer if the question is abortion.

David Boaz is executive vice president of the Cato Institute and author of Libertarianism: A Primer.