Date: May 21st, 2019
By: Gina Desiderio
When I started at Healthy Teen Network over 12 years ago, I learned about our organization’s history, how as NOAPP (or, the National Organization on Pregnancy and Parenting), we were founded to support professionals working with young people who are pregnant or parenting. We later added the third “P” for prevention (becoming NOAPPP), yet over the decades, we often faced the question, isn’t it contradictory to have a focus on teen pregnancy prevention?
I never had that reaction myself, but then for me, it’s just about sexual and reproductive health. Likewise, it’s not problematic for Healthy Teen Network. The goal is for all adolescents and young adults to thrive, to lead healthy, sexual lives.
But to thrive, we need sexual and reproductive health care and education, and that includes supports and services for young people who may be pregnant or parenting. If they chose to continue the pregnancy, if they choose adoption or to parent, we as a society have a responsibility to help them and their children thrive. They have a right to full options counseling, so they are supported and empowered to make the choice that is right for them. And certainly, all young people have a right to legal, accessible, affordable abortion, so they may realize those choices.
I hate even having to go through that. Why do we have to say it? Because we do. Because these rights are under attack, from the abortion bans to abstinence-only funding, to threats on Title X funding, it’s all under attack.
The “teen pregnancy prevention” aspect, for Healthy Teen Network, fails to consider the bigger picture. Young people need sex education to learn how to make positive choices, to develop healthy sexualities, to communicate effectively and resolve conflict, to develop healthy relationships. Along with sex ed, young people also have a right to accessible, affordable, youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health care guided by science and medical providers’ recommendations for care—and not limited access because states throw up too many roadblocks like parental notifications, or individual providers choose to hide behind ideologically-driven conscience protections to deny access to this care.
For us, it’s about the whole person. A holistic approach. Comprehensive sex education. Comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care. And while we are at it, comprehensive support services for young parents and their children, too. We need all of this to support and empower young people to lead healthy, sexual lives.
The abortion bans, the attacks on Title X, the conscience protections, the attempts to undermine sex education with harmful abstinence-only (or now, rebranded as sexual risk avoidance)…these are attacks on basic human rights.
It’s not ok. It is alarming. And it’s incredibly harmful with long-lasting, disastrous consequences.
And these senseless attacks on access to education and health care come when we can’t even keep our youth safe in school, while we continue to fail to pass reasonable gun control laws…Or fund public education adequately…Or provide equal opportunities for all young people to access affordable higher education…Or make sure all young people, including LGBTQ+ youth are recognized, respected, supported…Or provide sufficient housing and social support services for youth aging out of foster care or young people who do choose to continue their pregnancies and parent—or affordable, quality childcare—or paternity leave…Or protect our environment, heeding climate change science…
It gets more alarming, more devastating the wider you draw the circle. There should be no abortion bans because every person has a right to bodily autonomy. Full stop. But why this incessant focus on abortion. Why the focus on uteruses? Why don’t they care about babies after they are born, or children, or adolescents, or adults? Why does only one aspect of what they call “life” matter?
Sure it’s ideologically-driven. But it’s inconsistently ideologically-driven. That’s because it’s also politically driven.
The topic of abortion makes people get angry. I get angry at these abortion bans. Others get angry abortions happen. We pay attention, over here, to this issue. Maybe we pay less attention over there to some other issue or new scandal or investigation.
As health educators and providers and advocates, we talk about the right to education and health care. We say young people deserve this. We say it’s grounded in science. Proven effective. We are right. We have science and fact and reason on our side. We try, and we gain ground little by little, and of course we need to keep doing it.
But what more can we do? Because it’s not enough. It’s getting worse. It’s getting more extreme, more radical. It’s not just some abstract concept of reproductive rights that we are losing. We are losing our health care, our education, our freedom, and the right to live the lives we choose. So what do we do?
We continue the fight. We resist. It’s exhausting. It’s disheartening. But we keep #StandingStrong because it’s the only thing we can do.
Even the hashtag list feels disheartening.
About the Author
Gina Desiderio, Healthy Teen Network Director of Communications, has over 12 years of capacity-building and project management experience, supporting professionals to provide programs and services to empower youth to thrive.