Judge’s ruling regrettable

By Patricia Kasten | The Compass | April 10, 2013

By legal decision, a girl of 10 could go to a pharmacy and buy the morning-after pill, no questions asked.

Look at the last sentence: “a girl of 10.” How many of us would define a girl of 10 as a woman?

Webster’s defines a woman as “an adult female.” But finding a clear definition of “adult” is less easy. Webster’s calls it “relating to, intended for, or befitting adults.” So, what befits adults?

The 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives the right to vote — an American rite of passage — to 18-year-olds.

The drinking age in the 50 states and Guam is 21, but is 18 in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

The legal minimum age for enlistment in the U.S. military is 17 with parental (read adult) consent and 18 without.

Legally, a person has reached “the age of majority,” defined as both the right to vote and to consent to marriage, at about the age of 18. This consent rule varies a bit, and yes, 16-year-olds can marry in certain states. However, this usually requires the consent of a parent — who would be an adult.

Psychologically, there is the classic definition of stages of development by Erik Erickson: infancy through childhood; followed by adolescence (12-18, which was defined as the time of personal identity development); and young adulthood (18-35, defined as the time to build intimacy and solidarity).

That leaves the medical definition of adult, which is the only one based solely on physical development or attaining reproductive capacity. In the human female, this would be the onset of menses, which can happen as young as age 10. However, medical dictionaries do not define the onset of menses as “adulthood”; in fact, medical dictionaries rarely define adulthood, except in terms similar to Webster’s above.

Judging by the range in definitions, “woman” by our society’s aggregate thought means more than reproductive maturity — it includes a combination of physical, psychological and even legal development.

So, what did Judge Korman mean by “women of all ages?”

Could he really mean “children of nearly all ages,” as long as they have started menstruation? But wait, “no questions asked” means the store clerk can’t ask the little, pigtailed urchin in front of her, “Have you started your periods?”

Could Judge Korman believe that a child — who psychologically is just starting to discover her own identity, a process which takes years — has an adult woman’s presence of mind and maturity to choose a drug that will cause massive hormonal changes in her body? His ruling seems to say that.

A child is not a woman, by any legal, psychological, moral, ethical or religious definition. (The medical one is pretty vague to hang a legal decision upon.)

What Judge Korman should have been brave enough to say was that his ruling means the morning-after pill should be available to “anyone who wants it.” He only used the term “women of all ages” to veil his decision behind the banner of “women’s rights.” And that, the last time I checked, didn’t mean “children.” Protection of children is a whole different legal matter. Sadly, that can involve sexuality, but that’s hardly legal in nature.

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