Thursday, August 30, 2012

Sex Education: We've Got Learning to Do

By Amy Phillips Bursch, Media Relations Manager
My sex education was less than ideal. In sixth grade, they separated the boys from the girls and sent us into rooms where we watched grainy, out-of-date films explaining the reproductive system in the least interesting way possible. They also warned parents in advance. My mom decided to SHOW UP. AND COMMENT DURING THE Q&A SESSION. It was quite possibly the deepest humiliation a 12-year-old girl can endure. If I could have melted into a puddle and disappeared into the carpet, I would have. I remember nothing about the movie itself, shockingly.
A mural in Phoenix promotes abstinence. Teens say they want abstinence information, but they also want to learn about contraception. (cobalt123/Flickr)

Unfortunately, it seems that I'm not the only person who missed some vital information in sex ed class.

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy just released its new national survey on attitudes toward teen pregnancy, and unsurprisingly, kids have some learning to do:
  • 86% of teens age 15-19 say they know everything they need to know to avoid getting pregnant. But 47% of teens say they know “little or nothing” about condoms.
  • A whopping 72% of teens – including 87% of teenage boys – say they know little or nothing about birth control pills. Yikes.
  • 4 in 10 teens say using birth control doesn’t matter – if it’s your time to get pregnant, you’ll get pregnant anyway. Thanks, abstinence education!
  • 52% of teens say they rarely or have never talked with their parents about sex or relationships based on something they saw on television or in other popular media.
But don’t despair! It’s not all bad news!
  • 79% of adults say if their teens are having sex, they hope their kids talk to them so they can make sure they’re using appropriate contraception.
  • Most teens and adults agree: Students need more information about contraception AND abstinence – also known as comprehensive sex education – in order to avoid pregnancy.
  • 75% of adults and teens think politicians who oppose abortion should strongly support contraception. A-MEN. You listening to them, lawmakers?
So kids and parents want more and better information. And who could blame them? Avoiding teen pregnancy is super important if you want to keep your life on track. (97% of teen girls agree!)

But one word of advice for parents: DO NOT show up at your kids’ school during sex education class. They will never forgive you, and they’ll blog about it 25 years later. And who wants that?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Let's Talk Women's Rights!

By Amy Phillips Bursch, Media Relations Manager

I confess – I’m addicted to Twitter. It’s probably not quite as harmful of an addiction as some, say this, or this, but I do spend a lot of time meeting new friends, sharing links and discussing the issues of the day. Sometimes heatedly and with salty language.

Recently, the issue of the day seems to be control. Case in point: Men who try to control women, especially when it comes to reproduction.

A protester holds a sign April 28 during a women's rights rally in St. Paul. (Fibonacci Blue/Flickr)
Whether it’s states passing restrictive new abortion laws that will force women to carry even nonviable fetuses, or people who will never be pregnant from rape weighing in on what’s expected of women who are, it’s clear that some people really need to drink a large glass of mind your own business – in my very-humble-and-probably-suspect-since-I’m-a-woman opinion.

American women certainly aren’t alone in their struggles, however. Unfortunately, examples abound from around the world of how women’s bodies are not their own:
  • One study in Mali in 1998 included a focus group discussion on family planning. The men who took part came to this unanimous conclusion: Wives have no right to use contraception without their husband’s permission.
  • In many traditional cultures, the husband and the desires of the husband’s family – not the wife – had the most say in fertility and family planning decisions.  In addition, “some men discouraged [family planning] use because they felt that it enabled their wives to have extramarital affairs without being caught and decreased their sexual desires/performance.”
  • According to human rights activists, in Saudi Arabia, girls of any age can be forced to marry, and women can also be forcibly divorced without their permission.
  • In 68 nations in the world, abortion is banned totally or prohibited unless a woman would die otherwise, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights.
  • 47,000 women around the world die from unsafe abortion each year, according to the World Health Organization.
 I could go on and on and on. As I might say on Twitter: ARGLE BARGLE!

So yeah, women around the world have a LONG way to go before we’re treated as equals. This fight’s not going to be over anytime soon. But I take comfort in the fact that we’re talking about it -- whether on Twitter, or in real life. Let's talk!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Without Choice, Little Else Matters

By Amy Phillips Bursch, Media Relations Manager
When I’m not doing my day job of advocating for voluntary family planning programs with Population Connection, you might find me curled up on the couch at home, offering support to survivors of sexual violence. I’ve been an Online Hotline volunteer with RAINN – the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network – for the past year. It’s not easy work – some of the stories I hear are absolutely heartbreaking. But I get more from it than I ever give. Just knowing that you’ve made the difference for someone who truly needs it is extraordinarily satisfying.

That’s partly why I’ve been livid the past few days.

A lawmaker – it hardly matters which one anymore – had the gall to say that women don’t get pregnant from “legitimate rapes.”

The women I speak with on the Hotline who find themselves pregnant after their assaults would beg to differ.

I don’t claim to be an expert on rape and sexual assault. But one thing has stuck in my mind over the course of more than 100 hours of listening to survivors. Most of the time, the rape itself isn’t the worst part of their experience. The worst part seems to the feeling of powerlessness survivors feel. Something crucial was taken from them – choice. They had no control. What they wanted simply didn’t matter to their assailant.
A sign being held at a pro-choice rally. (SMN / Flickr)

That’s what makes me so angry about the current drive to take away women’s reproductive rights.

When a woman’s choice over what happens to her own body is removed, it’s dehumanizing. For survivors, it could feel like a second assault. First, their attacker gave them no choice in what happened to their bodies. Next, their state or nation might do the same by forcing them into an unwanted pregnancy.

One of the most important things we do at RAINN is to try to help survivors reclaim their power. We don’t tell visitors what to do – we ask them what they want to do. We listen. We try to understand where they’re coming from. We offer resources to help them make the best decision for themselves.

Not the best decision for their parents. Not the best decision for their husband, wife or significant other. Not the best decision for their state or nation. Not the best decision for their attacker. The best decision for themselves. Period.

Rape is excruciatingly commonplace around the world. It’s a weapon of war. It’s a way to keep women “in their place.” It’s used as punishment. It’s a tool of control. Whatever the situation, it strips survivors of their power, and leaves them to pick up the pieces.

Women deserve to choose what happens in their lives. Everyone does.

That’s why I’m so pleased to work for a pro-choice organization like Population Connection. We believe that unless women can choose if and when to have children, no other choice matters all that much. We understand that there are many circumstances in which abortion is the best choice for women, their families and their futures. We fight to give women the family planning tools they need to become pregnant when the time is right for them and they feel they can give their child the best opportunities. We know that when women have power over their own lives, there’s nothing they can’t accomplish.

Choice matters. Choice is what makes us human. Choice gives us power over our own lives. The loss of choice is the loss of power. Let’s not allow that to happen.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Basic Reproductive Rights of Women -- Including Abortion -- Must Be Upheld

By John Seager, President, Population Connection

Furor over the bizarre notion of “legitimate rape” has swept across the domestic political landscape in recent days.  Cooler, wiser heads have affirmed that “rape is rape” – a horrific crime which often involves violence and always includes coercion or one sort of another. Certainly, there is broad consensus throughout our society that rape is a serious crime.

In some other parts of the world, rape does not seem to be taken seriously, however, regardless of what the laws may say.
A girl and baby in Lake Albert, Democratic
Republic of Congo. (Martine Perret / UN)

Clearly rape laws need to be enforced. But there also needs to be recognition here at home and around the world that the basic reproductive rights of women must be upheld. This must include the right to make the decision to terminate a pregnancy.  Yet, this basic right is not recognized in many places around the world, including by many here in the U.S.

In a perfect world, there would be no rape. In a perfect world, contraceptives would be available to all. In a perfect world, every form of birth control would be 100% effective. All pregnancies would be planned, welcomed, and result in the birth of healthy children who are wanted and loved.

But that perfect world does not exist. That’s why we must ensure access to contraception and make sure that women have the right to make their own independent reproductive choices whether they live in Missouri or Madagascar.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Iran Turns Back Clock on Women

By John Seager, President, Population Connection

While many Iranian policies are worthy of criticism, its system of health clinics, free contraception access and premarital education has been a model for other nations and proof that small families can be achieved in an Islamic nation.

Iran’s health ministry this month confirmed that it has ended family planning funding. Iran has about 75 million citizens. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wants more than twice that – 150 to 200 million. Women are being urged to have more children for the good of the nation.

Women's literacy doubled and maternal mortality dropped under Iran's system of family planning. (Alireza Teimoury/Flickr)
Will abandoning family planning be good for Iran? No.

Whether it’s in Iran or Illinois, contraception saves lives. According to the United Nations Population Fund, expanded access to modern family planning could prevent up to 40 percent of maternal deaths in the world. The leading cause of death for women age 15-19 in the developing world is pregnancy, and adolescents are twice as likely to die in childbirth as women in their 20s.

Family planning has worked in Iran. Maternal mortality has plummeted.

A new Iranian baby boom wouldn’t just hurt women. It would also put enormous pressure on the environment. Iran is suffering from severe drought. The nation is draining its aquifers at such a fast rate, theground is sinking and buildings are cracking in some areas. Between 1971 and 2001, the water table dropped 50 feet. More people require more water, and Iran is already running dangerously short.

There are geopolitical concerns, too. Most of the world’s civil conflicts in the past 40 years have happened in nations with young and fast-growing populations. These “youth bulges” can lead to social breakdown. If economies are weak and unable to provide education, jobs and the possibility of a bright future, societies can become unstable.  

So does the end of government-sanctioned family planning programs doom Iran to a future of higher mortality, environmental degradation and instability? It depends. Will women still be able to access contraception? Will affluent Iranians buy birth control while poor families can’t? Will Iranian women put aside their own desires and start having babies out of devotion to their country?

The Iranian government’s original goal was to reduce family size from nearly seven children per woman in the 1980s to four births per woman by 2011. Today, it’s around 1.6. The literacy rate for women has almost doubled. Iranians are marrying later. Many women are working outside the home, providing extra income for their families.

Iranian women aren’t any different than women in America or anywhere else. They want to choose their own path. They don’t want to be forced into early marriages and mandatory motherhood. They’re educated. And when women are empowered through education, they invariably choose to invest their energy in smaller, healthier families.

Regardless of what the clerics think, that’s good news for Iranian women, their families and the planet we all share. Here’s hoping personal choice and reason wins out.

John Seager is president of Population Connection, America’s largest grassroots population organization.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Hey "Pro-Lifers": Family Planning Saves Lives. So Why Oppose It?

By Amy Phillips Bursch, Media Relations Manager
This is one thing I’ll never, ever understand: Family planning saves lives. Family planning prevents unplanned pregnancies. No unplanned pregnancies equals way fewer abortions. So why aren’t the hard-core “pro-lifers” in favor of family planning?

There are plenty of reasonable people out there who oppose a woman’s right to choose but fully support family planning, of course. I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about the activists and organizations who think abstinence is the only acceptable option to prevent pregnancy. That’s unrealistic, and it hurts women, infants and families. How? Here are some facts:
Family planning helps women -- and their children. (Legends2K/Flickr)
  • A U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) analysis found that if moms waited three years between pregnancies to have another baby, 1.6 million infant and child deaths could be prevented every year.
  • The Guttmacher Institute estimates that in 2012, 291,000 women in developing nations will die from pregnancy-related causes. At least 104,000 of those women didn’t want to be pregnant in the first place.
  • According to the World Health Organization (WHO), women under 20 are significantly more likely to die after giving birth than are women ages 20-29. Family planning allows younger women to wait to have children when their bodies can better handle pregnancy.
  • The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) reports that babies of mothers who die are more likely to die themselves.
  • A Guttmacher Institute analysis found that family planning (at current levels) prevents 138 million abortions – including 40 million unsafe ones – each year in developing countries. An additional 26 million abortions (16 million unsafe) would be prevented if women who want to avoid pregnancy but don’t have modern methods of contraception had them.
  • Unsafe abortions account for 13% of maternal deaths around the world, according to the WHO. I think it’s safe to say that practically none of those women would have died from unsafe abortion if they hadn’t been pregnant in the first place.
But some “pro-life” organizations can’t be persuaded. The “personhood” people want fertilized eggs to be given all the rights of full-grown humans, making the most effective forms of contraception illegal. Personhood USA on Wednesday sent out a tweet saying that “The lie: birth control prevents pregnancy. The truth: most will get pregnant & ‘need’ an abortion.” I guess infertile couples should use contraception, then?

The American Life League actively promotes the falsehood that the “Pill Kills Babies.”  A new group, 1Flesh, has also jumped on the "pill kills" bandwagon, and OneMore Soul says “an openness towards having children yields specific medicalbenefits.” (Huh?)

Justice for All’s handbook, “Abortion: From Debate to Dialogue,” says birth control pills are “as if the child entering the uterus is looking for his camping spot and finds “NO CAMPING!” signs … he dies from lack of nutrition and hydration.” It also says that “since self-control seems to be the root cause of unwanted pregnancies, why not focus our efforts on teaching people how to be abstinent”? I’m sure married couples who don’t wish to become pregnant will find that suggestion just peachy.

It's worth repeating: Family planning saves lives. Family planning prevents abortions. Family planning helps gives women power over their own futures. 

You really want to oppose all of that, "pro-lifers"? Really? REALLY?