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Women, students deserve apology

Letter to the Editor | Thursday, November 2, 2006

These may sound like harsh words, but I can find no better way to say it: Professor Emeritus Charles Rice’s recent column on Plan B (“Implications of Plan B availability,” Oct. 31) shows both a gross disrespect for women and a gross disrespect for his audience.

Early in his groundbreaking book “After Virtue,” Notre Dame’s own Alisdair MacIntyre bemoans our culture’s pervasive inability to distinguish between what he calls “manipulative” and “non-manipulative” social relations.

As I understand this distinction, non-manipulative relations – in the context of a newspaper column – show a deep respect for the intelligence of one’s readers, and present them with persuasive, rational arguments without distorting or oversimplifying the issue. Manipulative relations, on the other hand, propagandize and use emotional rhetoric, treating one’s audience not as intelligent persons to be persuaded with rational argumentation but sheep to be manipulated.

Sadly, it seems clear that Rice has chosen to relate to his audience in a manipulative way, ignoring the research showing Plan B (and hormonal contraceptives in general) work only by preventing ovulation; no evidence has ever been gathered to support his contention that Plan B prevents implantation of an already-fertilized egg. Indeed, since implantation takes place a week or more after intercourse, if Plan B was successful in preventing implantation, we would expect it to be effective far longer than the well-established 72-hour window. I think I need not add that the final four paragraphs do not give an argument against Plan B, but are instead nothing more than a slander against advocates of access to emergency contraception. There is nothing inconsistent about advocating for access to emergency contraception and condemning brutal school shootings or infanticide.

In these ways, Rice has oversimplified the issue, and manipulated his audience into associating Plan B with horrifying crimes. Rice’s caricature of sex as something men entice from women or something women deny them access to also shows further disrespect, for women’s sexual agency.

Women are not just objects of sexual desire, sitting around passively waiting for men to conquer them, and feminists – including some deeply Catholic theologians – have argued for decades that this view of human sexuality is perverse and unjust. Whatever else one thinks of abortion and contraception, to see them as means men use to “trick” women into having sex is to see women as incapable of having desires, interests or taking action on their own.

On behalf of the Notre Dame/Saint Mary’s community as a whole, I would ask Rice to apologize for his column. I cannot speak for the women of our community, but I would encourage him to apologize to them as well.

Dan Hicks

graduate student


Nov. 1