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.

1 comment:

stephiesue said...

AAAAAAMMMMMEEEENNNNNNN!