21 January 2010

trust women.

Today is the 37th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court Decision that established a woman's right to privacy and safe, legal abortion. Why should you care? Right now, opening statements are underway in the trial of Scott Roeder, accused of murdering Dr. George Tiller, a long-time abortion provider in Kansas, last May. Despite a 1993 attempt on his life, Dr. Tiller continued to offer a vital service to women in need until he was fatally shot while serving as an usher at his church. He famously wore a button that said simply "Trust women." This is all I am asking you to do.

What does it mean to be "pro-choice?"

We believe that individual women know more about their own unique situations than politicians or religious leaders. We believe that every child deserves to enter this world into the arms of parents who are prepared to give him/her all the love, care, and support s/he needs. We believe that women are intelligent enough to make informed decisions about their reproductive health in consultation with their doctors, partners, families, and anyone else they choose to include. Choose. That's what trusting women is about. The pro-choice movement is not pro-abortion. This is patently absurd. No one wants a woman to have an abortion and we certainly don't advocate the procedure as a means of birth control. But the choice must exist so we can ensure that all the other options are also available.

I'm pro-choice because I believe in education. Given accurate information, women (and their partners) can and should be trusted to make educated decisions about their own lives. Given accurate information, abortion should become a moot issue. If children are raised in an open, caring environment where they are comfortable asking questions about sex and sexuality, if schools present accurate, age-appropriate, comprehensive information about abstinence, contraception, and reproductive health, if women and men have universal, affordable, and reliable access to contraception and healthcare, if emergency contraception is available in hospitals and over the counter, then we can create a society where every child is wanted and loved. At the end of the day, isn't that what both sides of this issue want?

I'd like to think so, but it's simply not true. The anti-choice (or "pro-life," as they call themselves) movement continues to oppose comprehensive sex education programs despite mounting evidence that abstinence-only programs are not effective. Studies of peer-reviewed, published research show that abstinence-only programs do nothing to delay sexual debut or reduce rates of STIs and pregnancy. Comprehensive or "abstinence-plus" education programs, on the other hand, consistently achieve positive behavior change, lower STI rates, and do not encourage young people to have sex earlier or with more partners. Abstinence is a personal choice that we are all free to make (and I encourage delaying sex until both partners are ready for the emotional commitment of sex and are fully educated about the possible risks and consequences). Learning about contraception and protection from STIs doesn't interfere with abstinence; it only ensures that those who eventually choose to become sexually active have the knowledge to do so safely. Where's the harm in learning how to protect oneself?

More than 85% of parents want schools to cover sex education topics like HIV, STIs, and contraception. Maybe it's just because they were raised in a generation that eschewed all talk of sex and want to pass the buck, but let's embrace the opportunity to give kids accurate information that could save their lives one day (and possibly ensure they raise children who feel comfortable talking about sex). Perhaps more importantly, 84% of parents believe (correctly) that giving kids information about contraception doesn't increase promiscuity. As I'm fond of saying, just because I distribute condoms and have, at one time or another, stored several thousand in my home, doesn't mean that I feel compelled to rush out and use them. I'm typing this post across from a room filled with condoms, and here I sit, urging restraint and informed decision-making. Only 39% of high schools taught their students how to correctly use a condom in 2006. Ten years ago, it was 50%. Do you know how to correctly use a condom? Do your teenagers?

Currently, almost half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned. Of those, the two thirds of women who use contraception regularly account for only 5% of unplanned pregnanies. Access to contraception works. Knowledge about contraception works. Although the US teen pregnancy rate has declined by more than 50% since 1990, it is still double the rate in the UK and Canada and eight times the rate in the Netherlands. For a country that strives to be a gloabl leader, this is unacceptable. A quarter of women who use contraception get it from publicly-funded family planning clinics, and that number is rising due to the recession and increasing unemployment. The average cost of an abortion is $413 dollars. A year of birth control costs around $200 at a clinic like Planned Parenthood, even less with insurance or at clinics with sliding scales. Condoms are even cheaper and are commonly available free from health clinics, college campuses, and other locations. We cannot allow debate about abortion to interfere with funding for these vital contraceptive services.

Don't like abortion? Then do something to make it less necessary. Support affordable access to birth control. Lobby your state to end inaccurate and incomplete "abstinence-only" sex education programs and instead enact comprehensive sex education in schools. Tell your legislators to preserve or increaes public funding for contraception (and while you're at it, mention that servicewomen deserve the same access to emergency contraception that civilians enjoy). We shouldn't, as a country, be arguing about whether or not to make abortion legal (Criminalization does nothing to change abortion rates - they are roughly the same worldwide, regardless of legality. The only difference is safety). We should instead be working together to build a society where abortion is rarely necessary.

End the fight. Support comprehensive access and education.

Trust women.

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Want to get more involved in pro-choice advocacy and comprehensive sex education? Sign up for action alerts at NARAL Pro-Choice America for quick and easy ways to support pro-choice legislation and policies nationally and in your state.

For more information on contraceptive services and education programs, visit your local Planned Parenthood.

All statistics are from the Guttmacher Institute. Become a fan of Guttmacher on Facebook for more facts like these every day.

13 January 2010

a heart just can't contain all of that empty space.

So I was wrong. Being home finally got to me. The excitement and freedom started to wear off and I'm now nostalgic for the simplicity of Ethiopia. It started with the consumerism of the holidays and the announcement that the city of Orlando had, in a gesture of empathy for those laid off and unemployed this year, decided not to put up its $30,00 (ish - I can't remember the exact amount) holiday light display. Then, a "generous" businessman stepped in and offered to front the bill. For at least as long as I've lived in the state, we've had a teacher shortage and one of the nation's poorest-performing school systems. Why does it not occur to anyone to donate that money to a teacher's salary or textbooks instead?

It was all downhill from there...seeing the time and money we spend on decorations, on gifts selected and given out of obligation, not love. Are people really happier receiving a gift they don't particularly want or need than simply spending time with the person who gave it? I know I'm hardly innocent of spending money on superfluous things - I could have just as easily posted this from a free computer at the library instead of on the expensive laptop I'm currently using. I still intend to eventually own a dog and spoil it in the American tradition. I don't need an iPod or a digital camera or any of the other expensive electronics I own, but a starving kid in the Congo certainly could have benefited from that money. I'm not claiming any false sense of superiority here, just venting. But everything in moderation, right? I don't need these things, but they're at least useful, in a sense. Maybe we should have our major family gatherings around days that would allow us to just celebrate our relationships instead of trying to express them in material things - Independence Day or Thanksgiving, anyone?

What's more depressing is the realization that Americans aren't unique in this, we just have the means to take it to extremes. The vast majority of the world would follow in our footsteps - or at least the spirit thereof - given just a dash of disposable income. I saw it even in Ethiopia, one of the poorest nations in the world. I suppose I should find solace in the fact that maybe this is an inherent part of human nature, but I'm just sad. I desperately don't want to be one of those people who's seen "real poverty" and is forever a sanctimonious jerk to everyone she knows, but I have to say it once here because I can't just ignore it anymore. I'll spare you in the future.

This all spiraled out of control into my sobbing profusely cleaning out my closet for the first time since early high school and seeing firsthand how much I've wasted in the last decade. Seeing how far a dollar goes outside of the US just makes realizing my own selfish waste that much more disgusting (not to mention going through clothes that are a painful reminder of how much thinner I once was). Writing about it is incredibly cathartic, so thank you for reading.

In another shocking development, I had a sudden craving for shiro wat. I thought it would take a lot longer than that to miss Ethiopian food, but here I am in DC, evaluating reviews of Ethiopian restaurants online. I think John, a group 2 volunteer, summed up beautifully the hold Ethiopia eventually had on all of us:

As of late, I have been falling in love with Ethiopia. It’s stubborn, ungracious, dirty, dangerous and I absolutely love it. Don’t get me wrong, I am not going to move out here, but I definitely feel that Ethiopia will always have a special spot in my heart.


***

Friends, family, and readers of this blog have been asking me "what's next?" After two months bumming on the couch at home, I moved to Washington, DC, where I'm working for Dance Place in the development office and NARAL Pro-Choice America's organizing and affiliate office. So far, both jobs are going well. I'm particularly enjoying being surrounded by young, motivated, and socially conscious women at NARAL after two years of working almost exclusively with men. And I'm looking forward to free dance classes! My cab driver from the airport was an Ethiopian, so I was able to shock him with a few basic greetings and then we discussed Meles' merits (or lack thereof). I love this city.

As for what's next... After the Marshall scholarship debacle, I went ahead and applied direct to St. Andrews University in Scotland and hope to be studying for a master's degree in international security studies next September. I'll continue posting here as I come across interesting things, but probably less prolifically for a while. Thanks to everyone who's followed this blog for the last few years!