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Deirdre McQuade, spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Secretariat for Prolife Activities, comments on a federal judge's decision to allow the emergency-contraception drug known as Plan B to be sold over the counter to women of any age:

Plan B does not prevent or treat any disease, but makes young adolescent girls more available to sexual predators. The court's action undermines parents' ability to protect their daughters from such exploitation and from the adverse effects of the drug itself.


Commenting Guidelines

Maybe she's confusing Plan B with Roofies.

The attempt to legislate or "initiativize" parents in or out of their teenagers' lives (especially daughters) is fascinating now that I have one of my own. Obviously, in the meta-picture of upbringing, my wife and I are responsible for a teen, even the things she does of which we have no knowledge. And there are some things that an adolescent has to start figuring out on her or his own.That said, it occurs to me that despite our litigious society, if a teen has an adverse reaction to a medical procedure or medication of which the parents are unaware, there is less likelihood of lawsuit. Which must make the manufacturers and distributors happy. Dispensing drugs without consequences--nice.The parental approval connection with pro-life interests: I never quite got that. Parents are as likely to insist a teen have an abortion or march down to get some Plan B or whatever pillsas not. So isn't this more an issue for parents, rather than a particularly pro-life thing? Honestly, I'm not aware of the procedures here: if Catholic Charities or Birthright or some other pro-life service is counselling a teen, are they obligated to report to a parent? Or does the obligation only extend to what the political pro-life movement wants kids to hear?And is anyone else bothered by the whiff of sexism in all this? We're spending a lot of attention on adolescent women. But when was the last time we heard of any outreach to teenage boys? I'm not asking these questions to be difficult. (Well, maybe I am in part.) I consider myself a pro-lifer, and I did my time in the political side of the movement--no more, thank you. But I am concerned about the need to be consistent, just, and fair-minded when dealing with youth. They watch. And they know.

McQuade's point seems banal, if anything: imagine a 20 year old who sleeps with a 13 year old, and then dispatches her to get emergency contraception. Hard to see the public interest in ensuring that the 13 year old gets emergency contraception without a parental figure finding out. (Obviously the parents are already deeply incompetent if they don't know what's going on here, but it's not clear why the state should weigh in on the side of the statutory rapist in such a situation . . . )

If USCCB really thinks easy availability of Plan B makes "young adolescent girls more available to sexual predators", then I question their ability to develop effective and meaningful policies and mechanisms to protect against actual sexual predators. By the way -- why the adjective "young"? Accepting the USCCB logic for the moment, are they implying that older adolescents less imperiled? Really bad communication all around.

Well sure, this may seem like a weird angle, but if there's one subject on which the Catholic bishops have absolute moral credibility it's how to avoid making young people available to sexual predators.

The real effect of the court's decision on the availability of Plan B isn't its effect on those under the age of 17. It's the fact that the FDA's rules made Plan B much less available for everyone, including adult women. The age restriction became the tail wagging the dog on access to Plan B for all women because it forced retail outlets to limit its availability to when/where there were open and staffed pharmacies, in order for the pharmacist to be able to verify that the person buying the drug was over the age of 16. The court found that the FDA's decision, which was grounded in safety, was clearly arbitrary because there are much less safe drugs on the shelf. The real reason for the FDA's decision was, of course, more embedded in social policies but the FDA has no portfolio for including such concerns into its analysis. Congress could if it chose limit Plan B availability. I suspect individual states could as well, as they have for pseudoephedrine compounds associated with the manufacturing of methamphetamine. But the FDA's mission is to make drug policy based on the safety and efficacy of drugs. It didn't do that (well, actually, the FDA did but was overruled by Sebelius) and the agency got called out on it.

Reality check, Catholic Bishops. Girls under 17, whether they are predation victims or not, give their 17-year-old friends $50 to go buy morning-afters for them down at Rite Aid. Very little parental involvement ever occurs.

"McQuades point seems banal, if anything: imagine a 20 year old who sleeps with a 13 year and then dispatches her to get emergency contraception. Hard to see the public interest in ensuring that the 13 year old gets emergency contraception without a parental figure finding out."Speaking as a father of teenage girls, I'm completely comfortable that they're invulnerable and that their judgment in all matters is unimpeachable. Especially at the age of 13. Besides, Judge Korman, who issued the ruling, alleviated any concerns on this score by noting that girls who are *younger than* 13 may be endangered - but luckily, those dangers are to be dismissed. From the AP story: "This case is not about the potential misuse of Plan B by 11-year-olds," said Korman, who called the pills safe for girls but said the number using them "is likely to be minuscule" as less than 3 percent of girls under age 13 are sexually active." Whew. I slept better last night, knowing that (according the back of the envelope in my hand at the moment), roughly 100,000 girls who are 13 or younger are sexually active. It goes without saying that none of this activity is exploitative in any way. And besides, who is a parent to interfere with a 12 year old's free choice in this matter? She is in control of her own body.

Just because the USCCB has said this, doesn't mean it's mistaken.

Who said it doesn't make it mistaken -- although if I were representing a group of people who for years had failed to adequately respond to the sexual abuse of minors, I might be a bit more cautious about indicting others for making minors "more available to sexual predators."What makes it wrong? How about the fact that many states already have laws requiring hospitals to provide emergency contraception to rape victims if they want it? (Including Connecticut, whose bishops initially opposed the bill, claiming that Plan B had abortifacient properties, but then backed down, admitting they there wasn't enough data to support the claim. One of those bishops, William Lori, is now the head of the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty.) What else makes it wrong? How many sexual predators care whether they get their victims pregnant? Does anyone really believe that a sexual predator will be more likely to victimize a girl because he now knows how easily she can obtain emergency contraception, should he impregnate her?What else? Opportunity is almost everything when it comes to sexual abuse. A determined predator will try to create opportunities to abuse. He will build relationships that facilitate the abuse. Raising awareness of situations that could facilitate sexual abuse is one of the best ways to reduce it. Floating Plan B availability as if it rated in the top 100 challenges to addressing the problem of sexual abuse trivializes the problem. That it comes from a USCCB employee does not help.

If there are roughly 100,000 girls who are 13 or younger are sexually active, then it seems there are probably roughly 200,000 parents who aren't paying much attention. That is a much more grave problem, and one that certainly won't be solved by Plan B's presence or absence on a drug store shelf.

Grant: You could be right. On the other hand, since clerical sexual abuse was mostly same sex, pregnancy wasn't an issue. Of course, sexual abuse is sexual abuse.... What 13 year old knows what's happening and let's bracket the 11 year olds.

Jim Pauwels, if you had a 13-year-old daughter who had consensual sex, he ideal situation would be hat he told you and hour wife about it right away. However, she has a couple of options1. Get and use Plan B if she can.2. Hope that it was an infertile day and play the percentages to avoid telling you.Is there any situation in which you would see #2 as preferable to #1?If she told you, is there any situation in which you would forbid her to use Plan B?I can understand why you would prefer she told you first, but is it worth risking #2?

Typo "the ideal situation would be that she told you and your wife"

"...roughly 200,000 parents who arent paying much attention"Could we be a little more gentle here? I have an 11 year old girl, and I am painfully that paying attention is not as easy as it sounds. An 8th grader has to have some independence and, let's be honest, sex need not take all that long. My wife and I do the best we can, and we pay A LOT of attention, but there are a whole lot of forces (from hormones to billion dollar corporate interests) working against us.

John Hayes - fwiw, a few years ago, I organized and was the deacon at a funeral mass for a baby who died because a 13 year old girl concealed her pregnancy, gave birth (delivered by her 14 year old sister, who had given birth the previous year), and then abandoned the baby. Whether the sex was "consensual", I don't know with certainty, but I understand she reported to child welfare and law enforcement authorities that the father of the baby was the 13 year old's father/guardian (I believe she was a ward of the state). I suppose, if Plan B were available over the counter, the 13 year old might have purchased it. Or not. If she had, one tragedy might have been averted. Perhaps another wouldn't have come to light. I don't know that there is any lesson to draw from this anecdote, except that it's difficult to think of circumstances in which a 13 year old's sexual activity is truly consensual, and 13 year olds may not make what we adults would think of as responsible choices, including the following chronological sequence: "(1) Do I sleep with him or not?", "(2) Do I use Plan B or not?" "(3) Do I tell my parents or not?" The key to the sequence is (1). (2) may eliminate the necessity for (3) - but may also enable (1).As parents, what we do is try to have an environment in our home where our kids can talk to us about important things. I don't know if we succeed, but we try.

Thank you Mark Preece. As a parent of a 13 year girl, I was struggling to compose a response to that post without violating the ground rules.

I am not sure why government has the right to restrict whether young teenagers may get tattoos or use tanning parlors, on the one hand, but has no right to restrict the access of young teens to emergency contraception. Perhaps a reasonable approach should be that access to emergency contraception should be tied to the age of consent, and so would vary from state to state. If a young person below the age of consent is risking pregnancy, then it seems to me the state has a very real interest in what is going on. If I were the parent of a 13-year-old girl, I rather think I would be appalled that the government required pharmacies to sell her emergency contraceptives for the asking. I understand Barbara's point about the role of the FDA, but if they are to pass judgment purely on the grounds of the drug's safety, then some other governmental agency, or the individual states, ought to set reasonable policies. I do believe in democracy, so if the majority of people want emergency contraceptives made available to anyone who has the cash to buy them regardless of age or parental wishes, then I would support that. But I don't buy the idea that because a teen can buy a lethal dose of Tylenol, he or she has some right to buy emergency contraceptives. If the criterion is safety alone, then that may make sense. But surely there is more at stake than safety.

The assertion that the ability to use birth control makes girls/women a target of sexual predators is nutty, and as others have mentioned, the church has little credibility when it comes to the protection of minors.

I majored in a science in college and prided myself on my ability to think logically. I guess I will have to eat some humble pie, because I can't for the life of me see the logic of this argument that the Plan B drug will make young adolescent girls more available to sexual predators. Where did Deirdre McQuade obtain this information? Is there a scientifically sound study that can prove the case? I doubt it. It is much too early to expect such a study and results. Thus, I have to chalk this up to a scare tactic that certain people in our Church use and that only contributes to making us a laughing-stock to any persons who can think critically.

Jim Pauwels wrote: As parents, what we do is try to have an environment in our home where our kids can talk to us about important things. I dont know if we succeed, but we try.I think that's the most important thing. Congratulations on working on it. I agree that a 13-year-old can't really consent to sex. In most states it's called statutory rape. A few months ago a close friend's 15-year-old daughter was talked into having sex by a twenty-something man she knew. She told her mother right away and they went to the ER of the local Catholic hospital where she was treated as a rape victim. I assume they used Plan B, since that's what Bishop Lori and the CT bishops agreed they could use in their hospitals. If she han't had a relationship with her mother that let her talk about that, i guess that I would have preferred that she be able to get Plan B on her own rather than simply waiting and hoping that she didn't become pregnant. You mentioned that you've watched "Call the Midwife." You may remember the episode about the girl (who looked about 15) who delivered her own baby because she didn't feel she could tell her parents what had happened.

Jack and Mark, point taken.

" ... it seems there are probably roughly 200,000 parents who arent paying much attention."Omigod! Do you mean to tell me that this much-ballyhooed marriage between one man and one woman isn't the perfect model to which all the rest of us should strive? Omigod!!!

I majored in a science in college and prided myself on my ability to think logically. I guess I will have to eat some humble pie, because I cant for the life of me see the logic of this argument that the Plan B drug will make young adolescent girls more available to sexual predators.Same logic as parents who don't want their daughters to get the HPV vaccine because they feel that reducing the risk of getting cervical cancer and STDs from intecourse will make them promiscuous.

Even though I am a vaccine enthusiast, I haven't gotten my daughter the HPV vaccine. I think I'll wait until it's around a few more years. Plus, I read that a downside of getting it might be that women would forego annual cervical exam screenings, thinking it's been covered. How comes little boys don't get the HPV vaccine? I mean, who are the girls getting it from?

How comes little boys dont get the HPV vaccine?Gardasil is recommended by CDC for both boys and girls."HPV vaccines offer the best protection to girls and boys who receive all three vaccine doses and have time to develop an immune response before being sexually active with another person. That's why HPV vaccination is recommended for preteen girls and boys at age 11 or 12 years."'s much information there.

How many of these thirteen year olds feel confident to get help from their parish community?The bishops are so aggressive in controlling what contraceptive medicine a child can take but not aggressive in providing a community where that child can seek help.

Bill's comment is spot on.Parishes are seen as linked to bishops, and indeed, the bishops have, by and large, chosen the path of politics over pastoring where sex and related issues are concerned.

"Parishes are seen as linked to bishops"Todd, do you think this is true? I've read of research that indicates that for active American Catholics, their primary bond is with their local parish, but their psychological/emotional connection to the diocese and the universal church is much weaker.As it happens, as I was walking through our parish hall yesterday evening, on my way to a meeting, and I happened to glance into a meeting room, and saw that the voice floating through the door belonged to our auxiliary bishop, who was speaking to an adult confirmation class. I nearly called out, "Hey, your eminence" or something similarly dopey, but I didn't want to interrupt him, and then also reflected that he may not know who I am - even though, ecclesially speaking, he, not my pastor, is my "boss".

Actually, I guess, "Hey, your excellency" would have been marginally less dopey, but still kind of dumb.

"How many of these thirteen year olds feel confident to get help from their parish community?"I don't know, but I suspect that most thirteen year olds wouldn't feel confident about going to any institution for "help", whatever that would even mean. I'd think they'd go to *persons* that they trust and don't fear. My memory of being thirteen is that there weren't many adults that fit that description.

I think that the fathers of 11 and 13 year old girls commenting here should take a chill pill. Sure "anything" can happen and sexual activity can happen in a flash, but really, there is a well-defined set of risk factors here and maybe you should go find them and ask yourself how many apply to your family life. If any apply, then I strongly suggest you do what you can to change the way things are in your household if at all possible. The point here is, pregnant 13 year olds are almost always a symptom of inadequate parental control, sometimes for reasons beyond the parents' control (working two jobs, for instance, to make rent and put food on the table leaving a child with a lot of unsupervised free time) and sometimes not (laissez-faire parenting that isn't inquiring enough about friends and level of supervision at other peoples' houses or that just plain ignores warning signals). How does removing Plan B from the shelves change anything about your child's risk? It doesn't, anymore than removing Plan B from the shelves gives the state more tools to address underaged pregnancy. However difficult, good parenting requires a lot more than maximizing control over the effects of high risk behaviors you didn't do nearly enough to avoid.

I have no children but do have two beloved grand-neices ages 9 and 11. They have had no religious instruction. I do worry about the fact that they will be confronted with a culture in which sexual relations are considered so serious a matter that rape can send a male to prison for many years if not life, while at the same time sex is considered so trivial a matter that hooking up is even expected in many adolescent and young people's circles. How will they deal with this contradiction-- sex is terribly important but it's not?

I don't know what it's like to be a parent but when I was in high school my mom took me to the doc to get a prescription for birth control pills because she was worried about what I was doing. I think parents (and peeps) have a great impact on what kids decide to do about sex.

Ann Olivier. I don't think there is a contradiction. People who don't believe consensual sex outside of marriage as wrong may still have strong moral or social views about what is acceptable. I think there is a broadly held view that not respecting the other person's "no" is always evil - as is taking advantage of the other person's inability to say no (drugs, alcohol, power relationship, or young age) It may be a non-religious morality, but it is a morality. Violating it will get you ostracized or sent to jail.

John H. ==No doubt some people think as you say they do. But *why* is rape so wrong if the licitness is determined simply by what people want or don't want? The same can be asked of all morality based simply on emotive evaluations -- why should what someone wants or does not want be the determinant of what is right and wrong? A kid doesn't want to have his broken arm set. Does that make it sinful for the doctor to set it?

"I dont know, but I suspect that most thirteen year olds wouldnt feel confident about going to any institution for help, whatever that would even mean."A parish should act like an extended family where that parish family nourishes and protects its children. Each child is considered almost as precious as ones own. Build the ideal picture from there. Vatican II parishes started to greet people after Mass. Ethnic parishes came the closest to community since there were greater needs. Even with greater clergy pastors did not know how to build a community. They still do not. The chancery centers on whether parishes can pay their bills or not and how many people attend Mass on Sunday. In general cliques run the societies. Theologians wax on about community but Paul of Tarsus is largelyabsent. Except in sending a letter to the bishop's political dislikes.

Ann Olivier wrote "No doubt some people think as you say they do. But *why* is rape so wrong if the licitness is determined simply by what people want or dont want?""The object of this Essay is to assert one very simple principle, as entitled to govern absolutely the dealings of society with the individual in the way of compulsion and control, whether the means used be physical force in the form of legal penalties, or the moral coercion of public opinion. That principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others

Sorry, hit the button by accident. The second paragraph is J. S. Mill's proposition that the only actions society can prohibit are those that case harm to another person. Pretty much all first-year college students hear a presentation during their first orientation week telling them that society has decided that if you want to have sex with a person, it is up to that person to decide whether he/she wants to have sex with you - and that if you force that person to have sex after being told "no" - of if she/he is incapable of giving consent, society has determined that that is a harm to another person (in Mills' sense) for which it can punish you. No religious content to it.

John H. =-So why is rape such an awful crime if the culture considers individual consensual sex acts to be relatively trivial?

Ann,The reason rape is a big deal even if some people find consensual sex not a big deal, is because rape isn't about sex, it's about violence ...

John Hayes - I've never really cared for Mills, or at least the parts of his thought to which I've been exposed. The church would have a very different view of how society should come to order itself, one that recognizes God's lordship over his creation, our dignity as His creatures, and our rights and responsibilities that flow from that. Whether the US as a whole is ready to accept this schema (which is not really unique to Catholicism) is open to question, as it's not clear whether or not there is a social consensus to these propositions (and there I go, talking about "social consensus" in a rather Millsian way), but I wouldn't have an issue with - and in fact, I'd want - a Catholic college asserting these things in its orientation-week talk with the freshman class.

I wonder, what are the adverse side effects of this sort of "medication"? Also, can a drug be called a medication, if it is not used as a treatment for an illness or long term medical condition?

Jim Pauwels - to be clear, I'm not promoting Mill vs. Catholic moral theology. I was trying to suggest an answer to Ann Olivier's comment that there is a contradiction between society's view that rape is a serious crime for which you can be sent to prison and its view (on the part of many people, anyway) that consensual sex outside of marriage is acceptable. That gets into the question of the relationship between the civil law and Catholic morality. Aquinas (and Augustine, before him) said that the civil law didn't need to prohibit every immoral act. Later, the Church's view became that the best system of government was to have a king who was an absolute monarch and would impose Catholic morality on all tnrough his laws. Vatican Ii rolled that back closer to Thomas and Augustine, saying that the purpose of the civil law was to allow people to live together in peace (from memory, without looking up the actual language).In the recent oral argument on DOMA, one of the Justices read out a statement by Congress at the time it passed the law saying that its purpose was to express Congress's moral disapproval of homosexual- [-ity, -al activity? again not looking up] and asking one of the defenders of the law if that was, in fact, Congresses' intent. It was a loaded question because the court had already decided, in a Texas case that a state law punishing consensual sodomy was unconstitutional because it was based on moral views without showing any "harm to others", as Mill phrased it. Similarly, laws against fornication, adultery, divorce, contracepion, blasphemy, etc. have disappeared either by court decisions or legislative action in response to changes in public opinion. Mill's test of "does it do harm to others?" has become the secular morality, acceptable to people who reject the existence of any revealed religious morality. That is why it is used as tne basis for those freshmen orientations aimed at getting people to accept that you have to have consent before sex. I think it would be used even if a Catholic College preceded it with an explanation of Catholic teaching on unmarried sex.

U.S. District Court Judge Edward Korman: No serious health risks have been associated with the drugs use among adults and children, Korman wrote, and even the FDA acknowledged that the drugs safety and efficacy in the pediatric population have been established.Deirdre McQuade: "Plan B is a large dose of a powerful hormonal drug (levonorgestrel) that is available only by prescription when used in smaller doses for contraception.The court has acted irresponsibly by making this powerful drug available without a prescription to minor children.[...] Many studies have shown that wider access to "emergency contraception" among young people does not reduce pregnancy or abortion rates, but can contribute to higher rates of sexually transmitted disease."How are those two statements compatible? By noting that McQuade has not actually said that the drug posed a health risk, and Korman has not actually said that the drug poses no health risk. McQuade said that it is "powerful", which is a suggestive word but does not actually mean anything specific. He said that it "can contribute" to higher rates of STDs, not that it does contribute, so maybe studies are inconclusive. Korman said that it has not been proved to pose "serious" health risks, so it is possible that it poses "non-serious" health risks. Korman said that the drug's "efficacy in the pediatric population has been established", which might simply mean that if they take it, the drug does prevent pregnancy. McQuade says that "many studies have shown that wider access to "emergency contraception" among young people does not reduce pregnancy or abortion rates", which might mean that even if it's available broadly, there are still just as many pregnancies, or which might mean that studies are contradictory, with a majority of studies going the way of the FDA and a minority of studies, which could still be "many" studies, going the way of McQuade.Given that the middle paragraph of McQuade's statement about sexual predators makes no sense, and given that "minor children" is redundant and that the "young" before adolescent is a superfluous restriction, both designed to pull at people's emotional strings rather than be rational, I would believe Korman over McQuade.

Thank you, Crystal. You're almost at the point I'm raising. Let me put it a different way: Some say that intercourse is on a par with, say, having dinner together -- a trivial matter. But if consensual sex and rape are in themselves the same, why is rape not the equivalent of having dinner together? Isn't it because something is *added* to it, for instance, as you say, because rape is also violent. But then the question is: *why* is rape resisted so strenuously if, objectively, it is the same act as consensual sex -- that it so wrong if it has no more intrinsic value than a dinner? In fact, we can tolerate having dinner with someone we don't like (and sometimes we do). Why are we so intolerant of rape? True, it is violent, but that's *because* the victim resists so strenuously. *Why* do women resist rape? I suspect that the reason is not because of what it *is* -- it's because of what rape *isn't*, because of what it lacks. And don't say it lacks the victim's permission. The question is *why* does itlack her permission and result in such strenuous rejection? Surely, not because it is a trivial matter.Actually, I'm not completely sure how to articulate the answer, but the question remains an important one, I think. Sexual morality is in important ways dependent on the answer.

John Hayes - right, I do understand you weren't promoting Mill. And I agree with your take on secular morality. It might be said that the secular morality, in its "does it harm others?" test, is fine in itself but rather minimal, and the more robust Christian (perhaps Judeo-Christian, perhaps even broader than that) morality that I'm advocating encompasses that test but also a good more depth and richness.

Ann, you are really being disingenous here: rape is more like getting beaten up or stabbed than reluctantly having dinner with someone. Why don't we tolerate stabbing and punching? Sure, we might not want to dine with someone, but if someone held us down and forced food down our mouths that would be prosecuted as assault and battery (at the very least). Likewise the difference between reluctantly going on a date and being held down and forcibly penetrated. Rape is almost always accompanied by actual violence or the threat (or sometimes just outright fear) of greater violence than the actual act of penetration. A friend of mine was told that if she didn't have sex with a gangleader she would be forced to have sex with him and all of his cohorts. What would you have done?Indeed, one of the maddening things about the crime of rape is that so many like you tangle it up with sexual ethics. Believe me, that has been transmitted loud and clear to rape victims, who often feel ashamed in ways that victims of other kinds of violence would never dream of. That is one reason why rape is so shaming -- because other people refuse to see it for the violent crime that it is. If I come to your house for the date we agreed to go on and I find that you have decided that you would rather stay home and wash your hair and I drag you out to my car and make you go with me, would you ask me why kidnapping lacks my permission? Why does it matter?Why was it a big deal when two girls tied up a woman and threw her in the trunk of her car and drove around for a few days? Why can't we see that they just wanted to borrow her car and if she said no, why shouldn't they push her into the trunk and take it anyway? It's just a car and the lady wasn't really hurt. Maybe you should be the one to tell us why you see rape differently from these other situations, rather than asking us to justify why women don't just go ahead and have sex with the guy to avoid ugly confrontations.

Ann - I'm not sure that the secular culture, even the subset known as the "hook-up" culture, thinks that sex is as trivial as having dinner with a friend. I suspect that even among those who engage in sex that strikes us as casual and meaningless, they spend a lot of time and energy, and quite possibly money, pursuing the pleasure. It strikes me as more akin to what drug users, even those who aren't addicts, will do to obtain the pleasure of indulging in the drug.

What Barbara wrote. Not only is Ann being disingenous. Utter fantasy is more like it.