Customer disservice 

Technology is progressing so rapidly that pretty soon everything in the whole world should be perfect. Every day, stuff comes pouring out of NASA and Sharper Image and other tech-geek think tanks to make our lives a wonderland. Programmable houses, computers you can talk to and porn DVD are making life sweeter by the day.

If most people could ask for one invention, though, my money is on the time machine. Not for those esoteric dopes who would want to do things like "go back in time and hear Jesus speak" or "go into the future and bring back cures for diseases." Fine stuff for an eighth-grade essay or the answer given by a sincere beauty-pageant contestant, but the practical adult would Bill and Ted his way through life, whiting out things from the past and sampling the future -- and in so doing, making the present perfect instead of the present tense.

There are already small versions of time machines. You can cut someone out of your will as a way of kicking them in the ass in the future. An apology has a time-travel quality, in that it can blunt, if not undo, things you wish you might not have said or done in the past.

But the coolest form of time machine to come along in forever is a relatively new drug, Preven, the emergency contraceptive. Preven is a prescription drug, a "morning after" pill a woman can take when things didn't go quite as planned the night before -- when contraception failed, when you failed to use it, even in the case of rape. Preven is a high-dose birth-control pill that, if taken 72 hours after sex, can stop pregnancy from occurring in 75 percent of cases. It shouldn't be used as a regular form of birth control, but it's available when your regular method doesn't work. It's not the same thing as the abortion pill RU-486: Preven prevents pregnancy, making the abortion question moot.

This is a godsend to every woman who has ever woke up and thought, "Uh-oh," which I can guaran-damn-tee is every woman who has ever had sex. Technically. With a man. All those over-the-counter pregnancy tests aren't sold only to the women on the commercials who just can't wait to find out that they're pregnant. In fact, instead of a minus sign if you're not pregnant, they should find a way to make the tiny window write out "Whew!" in curlicue letters and get the little stick to shoot confetti. Maybe they should put in a sound card that sings "Happy days are here again."

Who's business?

You can buy Preven at any pharmacy -- except Wal-Mart. They simply aren't selling it. A press release on the company's website notes that this was a business decision and not a "moral statement" -- though it was a business decision no other pharmacy made.

Back in May an Associated Press story stated that Wal-Mart felt emergency contraception wouldn't be a big enough seller. The reason, though, seems more like a "cuz I said so" than an explanation, which feels odd coming from a company. You expect that sort of shut-out from parents, who don't have an interest in marketing themselves to you, not from companies who want to keep your good faith. In fact there are a number of ironic elements in this picture -- like the fact that Wal-Mart sells plenty of other standard, before-the-act contraceptives. They also sell Viagra. Should this penis crutch cause a pregnancy scare, though, the frightened girl will have to find her peace of mind elsewhere.

Hidden costs

Nobody can tell Wal-Mart what to sell and what not to sell. When they made the business decision (and not the moral statement) not to sell certain music, that was their business, and so is this. The problem is that Wal-Mart is the fifth-largest pharmaceutical chain in America, and may be the most accessible to poor, rural women -- the ones who can least afford a case of "oops." Maybe this is an insidious plot. After all, what's the better business decision: sell a woman an emergency contraceptive kit, or deny her that and later sell her prenatal meds, diapers and car seats?

Women can make business decisions, too. You wouldn't put your money into something you weren't sure was going to give you the best payoff, right? So why patronize a company that's going to limit your access to health care? I know Wal-Mart's cheap. But the richest woman in the world can't afford to accept limitations.

And besides, have you ever been to Wal-Mart? It's a study in everything poverty can buy. Standing in there should make you realize that if you can't at least afford Target, fercrissakes, you definitely can't afford a(nother) kid, and you'll make a mental note to get or stay on top of your own reproductive responsibilities right away. So Wal-Mart itself may constitute a form of birth control for the thinking person. It will work, as long as everyone still has access to common sense.

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