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What Would a Decent Teen Pregnancy Prevention Campaign Look Like?

10:37 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Miriam Pérez for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

It feels like every time I turn around, there’s another offensive teen pregnancy or parenting ad campaign. The Candie’s Foundation, which was created by Neil Cole of the apparel company Candie’s that is popular with young girls, joined the fray with its own offensive ad campaign for Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month in May.

Veronica Bayetti Flores at broke that one down nicely. Then an ad campaign was released by the Chicago Department of Public Health featuring alarmist photos of teenage boys with photoshopped baby bumps, like this one:

While campaigns like the one launched by the Candie’s Foundation have celebrity endorsements that propel them, I’m always more disgusted to see campaigns like Chicago’s, or the one in New York City earlier this year, where public funding has been used to make them happen—public dollars that could be used in many other ways that actually might have an impact on the lives of teenagers and parents of all ages. The Chicago campaign also has the strange side effect of being transphobic, accidentally depicting what could be a pregnant transgender man.

All of these campaigns have left me to wonder if there is a teen pregnancy prevention campaign I would support. Sadly, the crux of most of these campaigns, and especially the Candie’s Foundation and New York City campaigns, isn’t actually teen pregnancy prevention—they are teen parenting prevention campaigns, which I could never get behind. I would never support an initiative that shames and defames teen parents and spreads statistics that are taken out of context and claim teen parents, especially teen mothers, will never succeed.

This response to the Candie’s Foundation campaign illustrates how statistics commonly used to defend teen parenting prevention campaigns can be distorted:
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Poverty Causes Teen Parenting, Not the Other Way Around

11:56 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Martha Kempner for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

A teen mother & child

Poverty is a leading factor in teen motherhood.

Like many RH Reality Check readers, I have been closely following New York City’s fear- and shame-based campaign against teen pregnancy. The print ads include pictures of crying babies with captions like “Honestly Mom, chances are he won’t stay with you. What happens to me?” The ads also tell teens that if they have a kid, they will grow up to be poor. But the ads get it all wrong. Teen parenting doesn’t cause poverty; poverty causes teen parenting.

Developed by the New York Human Resources Administration (HRA), the campaign has seen a significant backlash since it was introduced last month. A group of activists in the city created a counter-campaign and demanded the city take the ads down. As Miriam Pérez noted in an article for RH Reality Check, the backlash may have resulted in a few tweaks and improvements, but the ads are still up, and the HRA hasn’t changed the campaign’s underlying tone at all.

I finally saw the ads for myself last week. My subway car was plastered with crying babies telling their potential teen parents not to get pregnant. The ads I saw were focused on money. In one, a curly haired toddler in a bunny rabbit shirt said, “Dad, you’ll be paying to support me for the next 20 years.” Another featured a one-and-a-half-year-old African-American girl with a bow on top of her head and tears streaming down her cheeks, saying, “Got a good job? I cost thousands of dollars a year.”

But the one that got me, the poster that I happened to be standing in front of for my ride on the C train, was one that might almost be seen as encouraging had it not been so completely meaningless. It read, “If you finish high school, get a job, and get married before having children, you have a 98 percent chance of not being in poverty.”

I don’t know whether this statistic is accurate, though it very well might be. Let’s face it: If you graduate from high school and get a job, you are two steps ahead when it comes to not living in poverty, whether or not you get married and have kids.

But these are big “ifs” that are affected by things way out of teenagers’ control, like where they’re born, the quality of the schools in their area, whether their parents are highly educated, whether their parents are employed, the employment rate in their neighborhood, and what the economy is like when they turn 18. And none of that has to do with whether or not they become parents before they get married.

Pérez points out that supporters of the campaign are missing the point — stigmatizing teen parents won’t prevent future teen parents, because that stigma already exists. I would add that the campaign misses another very important point: Teen parenting does not cause poverty. Poverty causes teen parenting.

Cause and Effect

The ads point out that economic outcomes for teen parents and their children tend to be poor. We know that teen mothers are less likely to graduate from high school, that the children of teen mothers are also less likely to graduate from high school (one ad in the campaign points to this statistics), that teen mothers are less likely to marry, and that they are more likely to live in poverty.  It would be easy to assume that these are natural consequences of teen parenting.

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The Struggle for Abortion Rights in Ecuador

11:41 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Heather Sayette for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

President Rafael Correa

Progressive Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa wants to ease strict anti-abortion laws.

Rafael Correa, the popular and newly re-elected leftist president of Ecuador is driving a “citizens’ revolution” committed to progressive principles and economic growth. This week he voiced unconditional support for contraception, including emergency contraception. This unprecedented support for access to sexual and reproductive health care is particularly welcome, as women’s rights advocates were beginning to wonder what the president’s revolution would mean for them.

On paper, the most recent revision to Ecuador’s constitution included unprecedented guarantees of gender equality in education, health care, property rights, equal rights in the workplace, protections for female senior citizens, priority services for pregnant women, remuneration for homemakers, and explicit reproductive freedoms such as the right to decide when and how many children to bear.

Despite these recent advances and increases in social services spending, widespread disparities and inequalities in access to health care remain, and access to safe or legal abortion services is nonexistent.

Rates of adolescent pregnancy have skyrocketed in recent years — Ecuador has the highest rate in the Andean region — and poor, rural, and indigenous young women are the most likely to become pregnant before becoming adults.  Seventeen percent of teens between the ages of 15 and 19 are already moms, many because of sexual abuse. Complicating the issue even further, Ecuador’s current criminal code only allows abortion for victims of rape who are mentally disabled, significantly excluding millions of women in a country where one in four women has been the victim of sexual violence.

Despite significant advocacy by women all over Ecuador, a wealth of evidence illustrating the benefits of decriminalization, and a worldwide trend towards liberalizing abortion laws, the government of Ecuador has not responded with a commonsense policy.

In response, a coalition of indigenous women’s, women’s, and LGBTI rights groups have joined forces to call international attention to their plight. The coalition recently submitted an alternative report on the state of the sexual and reproductive rights in Ecuador to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR).

The committee clearly paid attention to this input. It recommended that Ecuador amend its laws by allowing all women to access abortion services when pregnancy is a result of rape, and by introducing legislation and best practices that safeguard sexual and reproductive health and rights. The committee also recommended that Ecuador improve access to contraceptives, including emergency contraception.

These recommendations follow a global trend of activists resorting to international mechanisms when governments fail to respect human rights and to implement the international human rights agreements that they have ratified. Other international court rulings and committee recommendations have called out governments for failing to expand abortion allowances and failing to guarantee access to legal procedures. Most recently, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture called on states to eliminate bureaucracy in women’s health care, specifically to ensure that abortion and post-abortion care services are available without adverse consequences to women or health professionals. A previous report authored by the United Nations special rapporteur for the right to health went a step further to establish that laws criminalizing abortion violate the right to health and should be eliminated.

These unprecedented reports and support from international human rights bodies are important, but effective activism requires a diverse toolbox. We in the reproductive rights movement must continue to keep up the pressure in international forums. But we cannot over-rely on these mechanisms as a panacea to unresponsive policymakers. This work must be coupled with sustained domestic pressure on governments. Ecuadoran women’s rights activists, those of us in the international sexual and reproductive health and rights movement, our allies in the government, funders, and others must organize, mobilize, and collaborate.

While the Ecuadoran government has made dramatic increases in health-care spending, large-scale improvements to eliminate health disparities and unequal access to services are still needed — and the restrictive abortion law has got to go.

The United Nations committee recommendations to the Ecuadoran government are an important step forward for champions of women’s health and rights. Both globally and within Ecuador, we must keep up the fight and make it unacceptable for this or any government to continue to ignore the rights of women.

After winning the recent election with an unprecedented 58 percent of the vote, Correa openly stated that he is done making changes and will do nothing new, particularly regarding access to safe and legal abortion. But new is exactly what poor and indigenous women and young people need.

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Backlash Against NYC Teen Pregnancy Campaign Brings Tweaks, But Message Remains the Same

6:59 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Miriam Pérez for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Read more of RHRC’s coverage of the New York City teen pregnancy campaign here and here.

It’s been two weeks since the New York City Human Resources Administration (HRA) launched its teen pregnancy campaign. Though the agency has made some small tweaks to the campaign in response to the significant backlash that has surrounded it, it remains hugely problematic.

The campaign immediately has drawn intense criticism from activists, and that backlash has gotten significant media coverage. For instance, reproductive justice activists in New York launched the No Stigma, No Shame campaign. (View a Storify of the media response to that campaign here.) The Bloomberg administration has yet to admit defeat, but the HRA has made subtle changes to the campaign, seemingly in response to the backlash. According to the Times, the SMS game I wrote about previously for RH Reality Check has been edited. In the exchange about Anaya, the pregnant teen character who is bullied at the prom, she is no longer called a “fat loser”—now she’s just called a “loser.”

Since my first article on the campaign was published, I’ve received a few additional text messages from the SMS bot. A few days into the firestorm, I received this:


A week later, I received another random text from the SMS bot, this time about premature ejaculation. The texts seemed strangely timed, and I got the impression that these new texts were sent out in response to media pressure about the campaign. Sending out a few relevant facts about pregnancy prevention is nice—but it does not negate the fact that the campaign is rooted in shame and stigma.

Meanwhile, the campaign’s ads can be seen all over public transportation in New York City.

Brookings Institute Senior Fellow Richard Reeves was one of the few self-identified liberals to publicly defend the campaign. In an op-ed for the New York Times, Reeves argued that shame is a necessary tool: “[L]iberals should think twice: shame is an essential ingredient of a healthy society, particularly a liberal one. It acts as a form of moral regulation, or social ‘nudge,’ encouraging good behavior while guarding individual freedom.” He goes on to cite examples of how shame can be used to discourage drunk driving or smoking. “Teenage pregnancy qualifies for some ‘moral disapprobation.’ It is a bad choice, for the parents, children and society,” he wrote, quoting John Stuart Mill.

It’s abhorrent to compare the decision to become a teen parent to drunk driving, which is not only illegal, but also directly puts the lives of innocent bystanders at risk. Shame has been used to address both issues, but they are not morally equivalent. At least Reeves is honest in one way: He acknowledges that shame tactics have negative consequences on teen parents.

But there’s an assumption in Reeves’ op-ed—and in the campaign—that teen parenthood isn’t already incredibly stigmatized. Teen parenthood is not like smoking, which has been glorified and glamorized through decades of cigarette ads and popular culture. Gloria Malone, a teen mom and blogger who was brave enough to go on The O’Reilly Factor to talk about the campaign and wrote pieces about it for RHRC and the New York Times, is one of many teen moms who’ve spoken out about the stigma and lack of support they faced. “Some people argue that these ads are a fresh approach to dealing with the problem of teenage pregnancy. But I can tell you that there’s nothing innovative about them. All they do is take the insults and stereotypes directed at teenage parents every day, and post them up around the city,” she wrote in the Times.

And that’s where we really must question the city’s decision to spend $400,000 on this campaign. Even if we believe, as Reeves does, that stigma is an effective or legitimate method of prevention, where’s the evidence that teens aren’t already getting that message?

Obviously I don’t think stigma works, nor do I even think prevention is the right goal, when it comes to teen parenting. Helping teens avoid unwanted pregnancy? Sure. But when it comes to teen parents, I think we should be investing money in making sure they have the resources they need to thrive. Further promoting stigma only makes those resources harder to reach, as Malone points out in her Times article: “[A]fter I had my daughter, my high school guidance counselor refused to see me and help me with my applications. She never expected me to graduate. Most people, even within my family, assumed I wouldn’t amount to anything and would be dependent on government assistance for the rest of my life.”

Teen parents don’t have to end up in poverty, and there’s nothing inherently immoral about parenting at any age. The problem isn’t teen parents, it’s the social and economic conditions that make it impossible to juggle parenting and a career. Those are things we as a society have control over, and improving them will help everyone, including parents of any age.

New York Post to NYC Teens: Give Birth!

12:23 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Martha Kempner for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Last week, New York City’s Department of Health released numbers showing that teen pregnancy rates in the city have fallen considerably in the last decade. So for some reason, the New York Post, the city’s conservative home town paper decided it needed to stir up a fake controversy by suggesting that the Bloomberg administration is trying to keep the data on how much birth control schools have really distributed under wraps.

Health Commissioner Tom Farley certainly didn’t seem to have anything to hide when he hailed the city’s 27 percent decline in teen pregnancy. Farley suggested that the drop comes because fewer teens are having sex and more teens using birth control.

Farley said “It shows that when you make condoms and contraception available to teens, they don’t increase their likelihood of being sexually active. But they get the message that sex is risky.”

The commissioner is referring, in part, to the school district’s CATCH Program, Connecting Adolescents To Comprehensive Health, which uses Health Department doctors and school nurses to prescribe and distribute birth control to students. The program also provides pregnancy tests; education on contraceptive methods, including condoms; STI prevention education; education on pregnancy options and referrals to primary care; STI testing and treatment; and mental health counseling. The program started in 2011 with five schools and expanded to 13 schools by the beginning of the 2012-13 school year.

The CATCH program made headlines at the start of the school year when a New York Post article said it was giving out Emergency Contraception to students has young as 14 without their parents’ knowledge. This was not accurate. The Health Department says that parents were made aware of the program and told them that they had the right to “opt-out” if they did not want their child to be allowed to receive contraception at school. Only one to two percent of parents at these schools chose to “opt-out.”

Despite this, the Post insisted the program was controversial and parental authority was being usurped. That article, which ran with the headline “NYC schools give out morning-after pills to students—without telling parents,” quoted one parent saying that she’d never been told about the program and that she wouldn’t want her daughter to have access to EC in the nurse’s office because “Parents should know if their daughter is pregnant.” The article also reports that school insiders “dislike the lack of parental involvement” because of the dangerous side effects of EC and quotes another school employee who said that she worries that EC might encourage careless sex. All of these quotes represent common misperception about EC: it prevents fertilization and therefore pregnancy, it is safe for young women, and it does not change sexual behavior.

This weekend, the Post continued its effort to make the CATCH program seem more controversial than it is when it ran an article with this first line: “Plan B has become Plan A in the Bloomberg administration’s stealth war on teen pregnancy.”  According to the article, the paper used the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to find out exactly how many dose of EC were distributed at New York City schools last year. The FOIA request yielded the following data:

  • 22,400 students received reproductive health care between 2009 and the beginning of this school year
  • 40 separate school-based Health Centers doled out 12,721 doses of Plan B in 2011-12, up from 10,720 in 2010-11 and 5,039 in 2009-10

The article notes that this is far higher than the 547 doses of EC that the officials cited as having been handed out last September when they announced the expansion of the CATCH program.

Though the Post seems to be suggesting a big cover-up, the paper is, deliberately or not, mixing up its numbers. There are only 13 CATCH schools and the program didn’t start until 2011. The 40 school-based health centers in city schools that “doled out Plan B” are not part of the CATCH program. These health centers are privately run and have been distributing/prescribing contraception for a number of years.

And the city is not trying to hide the school-based health centers either.  In fact, a department spokesperson told me in an email that the CATCH program is:

A pilot program to see if we could provide the same essential services through regular school nurses and physicians in schools that don’t have school based health centers.

She described it as part of a comprehensive approach to reducing teen pregnancy in the city.  And the best part, it seems to have worked (or at least helped). The health department released these numbers:

  • The teen pregnancy rate for girls ages 15 to 19 was 72.6 per 1,000 in 2010 down from 98.8 per 1,000 in 2001.
  • There were about 19,080 teen pregnancies in 2010 down from 24,815 in 2001.
  • Sexual activity among high school students is down by 26 percent since 2001 when 50.9 percent of high school students reported having had sex compared to 37.8 percent in 2011.
  • More girls were using the Pill or other long-term birth control methods the last time they had sex up from 17.3 percent in 2009 (the first year it was collected) to 26.9 percent in 2011.

These data reflect national data that show the rates of teen sexual activity and pregnancy have been dropping in recent years. New York City’s teen pregnancy rate is still remains higher than the national rate but it has seen a steeper decline.

The teen pregnancy rates do vary widely in the city with the Bronx having significantly higher rates than other areas. In addition, the rates among Black adolescents (110.7 per 1,000 girls aged 15 to 19) are much higher than those for Whites in the city (just 16 per 1,000). Teen pregnancy is a multi-faceted issue that is woven into the socio-economic fabric of communities, so it is not surprising that these disparities still exist. Nonetheless the dramatic reduction in teen pregnancy rates across the city shows that access to contraception is an important first step.

Instead of lauding the success of the city’s efforts, the Post just continued to claim the city is hiding the program. It even quoted one mother who suggested that the fact that the schools with CATCH Programs were in Black and Latino neighborhoods proved that they were part of an effort by Mayor Bloomberg to control the minority population.

This seems like irresponsible reporting to me. The program is in these neighborhoods because these neighborhoods have the highest rate of teen pregnancy. The program is not a secret.  Parents were informed and given how few “opted out,” most seemed to approve.  Moreover, the Health Department is lauding the program’s success pretty loudly. They told me in a statement:

Since 2009, birth control use has increased yet the rates of teen sexual activity and pregnancy continued to decline, sharply refuting the myth that access to information and birth control encourages sexual activity.

A more accurate headline would have been “Congratulations New York City for Helping Teens Prevent Pregnancy.”


From STD Prevention to Sexual Health, and Back

11:14 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Kees Rietjmeijer for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series developed by the American Social Health Association (ASHA) in celebration of Sexual Health Month 2012 during September. RHRC will be publishing articles by ASHA all month, see all the articles here and visit ASHA online throughout September for updates.

Cross-posted with permission from the American Social Health Association (ASHA).

Recovery Fair 2010

(Photo: Portland Prevention/flickr)


One evening, during the week of the 2001 International Society for STD Research meeting in Berlin, I met with a couple of colleagues for beers after the day’s proceedings. We lamented the the narrow focus of many conferences was on disease and the lack of a broader sexuality framework. “It is time to put sex into STD prevention,” one of my colleagues said. The comment was a bit wistful at the time and I don’t think any of us could have foreseen that a decade later our field would be expressing so much more interest in sexuality and sexual health.

This has been accentuated by the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) recent efforts in developing a sexual health framework signalling an overall shift from disease prevention to health promotion. Credit goes to Dr. John Douglas, the Chief Medical Officer in the National Center for HIV, Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention, who spearheaded this effort in the past three years and has created a broad coalition of stakeholders across the political and cultural spectrum to endorse a national strategy for sexual health.

Of course, the CDC’s efforts did not arise in a vacuum and there have been a number of developments in the past decade that have fostered a broad-based discussion of sexual health. For me, one of the heralding events in the sexual health discourse was Dr. Amy Schalet’s presentation on teen sexuality at the Jacksonville STD Prevention Conference in 2006. I have always been taken by Dr. Schalet’s work — perhaps because as a chauvinist Dutchman (born and raised in Amsterdam) I liked her findings that a more liberal attitude towards sexuality among Dutch teens and their parents is associated with much lower rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the Netherlands compared to the U.S.  Her book: “Not Under My Roof” was published last year (a podcast interview with Dr. Schalet is available at this link).

However, association does not causation make. There is a lot to like about a more positive approach towards sexuality, but a causal link between better sexual health and lower pregnancy and STI rates ultimately requires scientific evidence that goes beyond intuitive reasoning. For example, it has been said that prevention messages that use a positive “gain” frame (i.e., focus on health) are more effective than messages that use a negative “loss” frame (i.e., focus on disease). Intuitively, this sounds good but what’s the evidence? Not much, at least not in the field of prevention. The only study that analyzed the use of negative versus positive approaches for ongoing prevention with patients, actually found greater efficacy of the loss frame (or negative) messaging. This study formed the basis of the Partnership for Prevention intervention, which has been widely disseminated by the Diffusion of Effective Behavioral Interventions (DEBI) program.

The point is that for a sexual health strategy to work, we must develop a sexual health science. For starters, we must determine what parameters best measure a person’s sexual health. How are these parameters assessed and how are they related to the outcomes we are interested in: unintended pregnancy, STIs, sexual violence? Finally, can interventions be designed to influence these parameters that can be shown to improve sexual health and reduce negative outcomes?

If our forays into sexual health do not yield something more than what we are already doing now (i.e., testing and treating for STIs (including HIV), counsel our patients to reduce numbers of partners and increase condom use), our journey may have been interesting, but ultimately proven to be a detour.

There is some good research at the interface of sexuality and STI/HIV/pregnancy prevention. One of the leaders in that field is Dr. Dennis Fortenberry (indeed: he of the “wistful” comment cited above) at Indiana University School of Medicine. He has become a frequent speaker at national and international STI conferences on sexual health topics. In one such presentation, he proposed a sexual health research paradigm that encompasses and links the full spectrum of sexual expression, including sexual abstinence, masturbation, and partnered sex. For example, he presented very interesting data on the linkage of masturbation and condom use (click here for a copy of this presentation). He has also proposed that in the context of sexual health, a much greater focus must be placed on pleasure and desire. Go read his blog entitled: “What is Sexual Health” posted at this link.

At the end of the day, I am still an STD prevention guy. And, while I am a strong believer in sexual health promotion, we need science not just good will to show that this approach is working.       

Keep Your Stigma: Latina/o Youth Need Real Support

12:54 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check


Written by Marisol Franco for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

What comes to mind when the words “pregnancy,” “Latina” and “teen” are used in the same sentence? You may be surprised at how reality differs from current narratives about Latinas/os and adolescent pregnancy and parenting.

Consider Desiree and Angelica, two single Latina moms now in their thirties. Desiree was 17 and pregnant, and contrary to popular belief, her life did not end. Her son is now 12 and she recently received her Bachelor’s degree in Organizational Development. Angelica was 19 and pregnant. Her son is now 18 and receiving acceptance letters to his top choice colleges.

These success stories are rarely heard of, not because they are rare, but because in the last century, societal norms have changed to deem adolescent parenting “bad” and “teen pregnancy” a social problem. If adolescent pregnancy is so “bad,” why are Desiree, Angelica and their children doing well? Are they exceptions or the rule? The truth is many adolescent parents, children, and families do equally well compared to their peers, particularly when provided with strong social and functional support. The myth of the Latina/o “teen pregnancy problem” has buried these stories. Moreover, the dominant frame used in efforts to reduce adolescent pregnancy has, in part, caused these stories to be seen as even more uncommon, as it ascribes support for young families as social and economic “costs” and depicts young parents as social pariahs.

California Latinas for Reproductive Justice (CLRJ) released its latest issue brief, Supporting Latina/o Youth: Strengthening Latina/o Young Families and Communities, specifically to counter conventional narratives on Latina/o adolescent pregnancy and parenting. CLRJ’s brief critically examines the dominant perspective on adolescent childbearing which focuses almost exclusively on preventing adolescent pregnancy.  Supporting Latina/o Youth adamantly rebukes this approach which further stigmatizes young parents and does nothing to resolve the contextual issues that lead youth to become parents, or provide support for youth who do become parents.

Has CLRJ concluded that we must desist in supporting “teen pregnancy prevention” programs? To answer that, we ask: how did Desiree and Angelica fall through the prevention cracks?

There are myriad reasons why adolescents become parents including wanting to be a parent, lack of access to contraceptives, lack of access to comprehensive sexuality education, and lack of opportunities. Working with youth to delay childbearing and parenting is not inherently wrong, however viewing youth sexuality in a vacuum of “prevention” does not meet the needs of Latina/o youth. Similar to adults, half of youth pregnancies are unintended. In other words, half of youth pregnancies are planned. Acknowledging that youth sexuality is a normal part of development and that some youth will become sexually active as adolescents compels us to think beyond preventing pregnancy. Efforts to address adolescent pregnancy and parenting must expand to address youth’s sexuality and social needs holistically.

In a misguided attempt to support youth in avoiding the perceived “negative consequences” of adolescent parenting, the dominant prevention frame centers on changing individual behavior, which has both intentionally and unintentionally categorized pregnant and parenting youth as a social problem and a “drain” on society. Young Latina/o parents are stereotyped as unsuccessful, irresponsible and unfit caregivers. This punitive strategy of blaming young Latina/o parents and categorizing them as “costs” further stigmatizes the community while ignoring the social, economic, and political factors that shape their lives and behavior.

It is time to address Latina/o youth sexuality in a manner that considers the broad context of young Latinas’/os’ lives.  CLRJ work examine the various health, educational and socio-economic inequities that must be resolved to meet Latina/o youth’s needs.

It refutes myths like: “Adolescent parents are more likely to become poor.” In fact, Latina/o youth – pregnant, parenting or not – are experiencing persistent poverty. Thirty-five percent of California Latina/o youth are living in poverty. Nearly 60 percent of adolescent mothers are already living in poverty at the time of giving birth. Low-income youth make up around 38 percent of young women aged 15-19, and account for 73 percent of adolescents who give birth.

We need to change the dialogue. Instead of focusing on individual behavior and blaming youth, policymakers and advocates must address the institutional factors that influence behavior and create holistic programs that reflect this reality.

Like other parents, Desiree and Angelica made many sacrifices along the way to “make it.” Desiree struggled to work, support her son, and go to school. Angelica’s family supported her as she worked hard to provide for her son on her own. We know not all pregnant and parenting youth experience the same outcomes. Some experience discrimination at school being pushed out into alternative schools for pregnant and parenting students. Some cannot obtain childcare, which similarly to older parents, impedes them from securing good jobs, or attending school or job training. Many fathers have even less resources to support their parenting.

Providing Latina/o youth support and resources to parent does not enable them to become adolescent parents, it provides them with their legal right to the same educational and economic opportunities as their peers. Young parents are part of many Latina/o families’ reality, and they contribute to California’s socio-economic fabric. Pregnant and parenting youth must be treated with respect and dignity, recognizing that they too form part of our state’s future.

As attacks intensify on women, immigrants and anyone who is not a rich, white, heterosexual, conservative man, the vociferous response in defense of women’s autonomy and health has omitted any discussion about healthy sexuality, acquiescing to conservatives that sexuality is inherently bad. The same can be said in the case of adolescent childbearing and parenting. To many, discussing adolescent pregnancy and parenting among Latinas/os is often an unwanted reminder that youth have their own sexuality. By distorting this issue into a widely “palatable” public health prevention framework, we have undermined the conversation around healthy youth sexuality and pigeon-holed the approach to one that is punitive.

In order to address adolescent pregnancy and parenting in the Latina/o community and beyond, we must collectively start to change the discourse and norms to include youth sexuality and health needs from a perspective that acknowledges young people’s rights to education, access, autonomy and opportunities.

MTV’s Truths Vs. Anti-Choice Lies

9:14 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Amanda Marcotte for – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

In all the years I’ve worked as a pro-choice writer and social media activist, one thing I’ve really learned about the anti-choice movement is its relationship to truth is like a vampire’s to sunlight. And I don’t mean the Mormon sparkly Twilight vampires.  I mean old-fashioned vampires who screech and burn up when exposed to sunlight.  Anti-choicers exhibit as much dread around the truth as the sewer-dwelling minions on Buffy the Vampire Slayer displayed towards the sun.

A recent example involves the MTV special No Easy Decision. The special was remarkably free of ideological concerns over abortion, and they seemed to take all their cues from the pro-voice organization Exhale, which partnered with MTV on the special.  The show simply chronicled the experience of one young mother who has an abortion, and then supplemented that coverage with Dr. Drew Pinsky interviewing that woman, Markai, and two others, Natalia and Katie, about their experiences.  Of course, it’s always been my opinion that non-ideological approaches to abortion—including pro-voice approaches that value the individual experiences of women—are automatically pro-choice, since pro-choice is about letting individual women decide, instead of forcing a decision on them. If you have all the access to the facts and a completely free choice, that’s all pro-choicers want, and all anyone who positions themselves as anti-ideological should want.

And this special took that non-ideological, experience-and-science-based approach.  The women were allowed to talk about the good and the bad of abortion, and their differing feelings.  No one was “right” or “wrong” in how they felt.  “What if” feelings were expressed beside relief. Dr. Drew’s statements were scrupulously fact-based.  He noted that the taboo against speaking about abortion didn’t do much to slow down the abortion rate.  He barely talked about the politics of it at all.  If you object to the legality of abortion or the morality of it, but are otherwise pro-facts and pro-science, you shouldn’t have objected.  A worldview should be able to withstand basic logic and facts.

But anti-choice activists knew their worldview cannot withstand basic reality. Read more

Anti-choice Politicians Beware: Large Majority Strongly Opposes Republican Leadership’s “Plans” for Women

7:13 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Jodi Jacobson for – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

One thing you’ve heard over and over from politicians on the right in this month after the election is how focused they plan to be on jobs and the economy.

One thing you might not have heard so much about: While the new Republican House leadership has failed to articulate an economic strategy beyond “cut, cut, cut” and “make the rich richer,” they have a long list of bills they want to pass to restrict women’s health and rights.

Voters say: Not so fast.

A survey funded by Planned Parenthood Federation of America and conducted by Hart Research shows that large majorities of voters–including those who voted Republican or Tea Party in the last election–are strongly against proposed attacks on women’s health and rights.

The survey was conducted among 802 registered voters between November 5th and 8th, 2010. It measured support for and opposition to the GOP leadership’s policy proposals on women’s health, which come in part from the GOP’s “Pledge to America.”   Specifically, the GOP “Pledge to America” calls for “a government-wide prohibition on taxpayer funding of abortion and subsidies for insurance coverage that includes abortion.”

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Pawlenty’s Executive Order Puts Politics Before Lives

6:48 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Sarah Stoesz for – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty landed three punches to the people of the state this week.

First he rejected federal funding for the Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP), which would have provided nearly $1 million in federal funding to the state for comprehensive sex education.

At the same time, he accepted federal monies for abstinence-only initiatives.

On Tuesday, he released an Executive Order barring state agencies from submitting any applications to the federal government in connection with requests for grant funding for programs and projects connected with the federal health care reform bill.

The effect is to deny people access to $1 billion in desperately needed health-care dollars, including nearly $1 million in teen pregnancy and STI prevention dollars, while bringing in $500,000 (with $379,000 required from the state) for failed abstinence-only programs.

You can do the math, but you can’t begin to calculate the damage.

Governor Pawlenty’s executive order could close the door to more than 100 federal health care grants that would fund myriad vitally important projects, including teen pregnancy prevention; postpartum care for new mothers; maternal, infant and early childhood home visitation programs; childhood obesity prevention, and tighter regulation of insurance companies, just to name a few.

Among the victims would be the elderly, teens, both the poor and middle class, those in high-risk insurance groups, rural Minnesotans, the mentally ill, new moms and newborns.

Minnesota needs these health care dollars. Earlier this year, the state Health Department released new figures indicating an alarming increase in HIV infections among young Minnesotans. The number of new cases increased by 13 percent in 2009, marking a 17-year high. This news came on the heels of annual increases in the rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) over the past decade. Chlamydia, for example, is now the No. 1 reported communicable disease in the state. Read the full report here.

Studies show that nearly half of all Minnesota teens are sexually active by their senior year. It’s not fiscally sound or morally responsible to deny these teens the information they need to prevent pregnancy and the transmission of infections that can lead to infertility and chronic illness.

Instead of addressing these problems, Pawlenty is focusing on advancing his personal presidential ambitions. For the past eight years, we’ve seen Minnesota lose its pioneering edge and move to the back of the line. Sadly, the steepest price for Pawlenty’s political gamesmanship will be paid by Minnesota’s young people.