Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Teen Pregnancy, Contraception Access and the Presidential Election

Teen Pregnancy

With children, as with teenagers (and adults), repetition of information, lessons, instructions or values is imperative: "Don't touch that, it's hot!", "Do your homework." "Do well on your SATs so you can get into college." "Don't hit!" "Don't use that bad word." "Don't touch that, you'll go blind!" How well do we listen to something told to us once or twice? How quickly do we forget? Is what parents tell their children who are trying to protect them really important in a child's mind? Or does that child, regardless of age, think they already know it all? Are there guarantees that once a child is out of sight, they will have listened to our lessons and incorporated them into their everyday life away from home?

Preggo Barbie
I think back on my childhood and teen-hood, and the memories make me have to admit that I thought I did know it all. When I think about my first "real" kiss at fourteen, I felt grownup. When I think about my "first love" at sixteen, I thought I was grownup. When I talk about getting pregnant at twenty, I was grownup; at least in my own mind. I didn't use condoms. It was the age of  "free love", and nobody did. Did you? Nobody talked about using them either, except as an inconvenience, a disrupter of the moment, or an inhibitor of sensation. It was a boys' responsibility to carry them, and most boys didn't. Do they now? How many girls think about them now? How many actually carry them, just in case? I would venture some do, but I would bet that many do not. How many girls and boys nowadays think about them at all? Have you asked your child if or what they think about using condoms? Do you know if your child has or is experimenting with sex?

Advertising on television, in movies, in magazines and on billboards has become much more sexually explicit than in the promiscuious '60's. How many Victoria's Secret ads have you seen lately? What is your impression of the Calvin Klein underwear ads? I consider the form of advertising used by these two companies, for example, to be "soft porn". The underwear they advertise is fine, its the alluring looks of the models that offends me: the pursed lips, the sultry eyes; the pulsating music. I also resent the poses struck in those ads: the arched backs, the full-frontal "package", the stretching on a bed or recliner that connotes a "come hither" proposal. These ads are aired in prime time, meaning a two-year old can watch them. Does anybody have a problem with their toddler watching young women or men on television flaunt underwear for money: seducing the public to buy those sexy wares of the advertisers who pay big bucks to air, especially during a "big game" or a popular talk show, for example? Maybe you haven't thought about it, or maybe you don't care. Maybe you think I'm old-fashioned or just getting carried away with nonsense.
Latina Stats

Whatever your view, sensory stimulation affects human beings. Babies are affected by stimuli "in utero". There are studies that prove how we are affected. Some parents think it inappropriate for young children to watch the movie, "RoboCop", for example, but some think graphic violence portrayed in that movie or any other has no affect on their child at all. How does a graphically violent or really scary movie make you feel? How does a graphically or incredibly sensual scene played out in a film affect you? Do you think your children are immune to these feelings? I'm sure you don't, but advertisers don't care about that. They only care about making money. It is up to us to protect our children from all predators, including commercial advertisers. Of course, not all advertising promotes ill-feelings. I love those insurance commercial where the dog can't find a safe place to hide his bone, while the song, "Trouble", plays out his angst. The point is, we are affected. But, can we be protected?

How do we protect our children when they are out of sight? We either depend on others we entrust with our children's welfare to do it in our stead, or we trust that we have given our children, especially our teens, all the tools they need to make good choices, and that they will come to us if they need help. What tools do we give our teens to make those good choices? One of them is a healthy conversation about their sexual feelings and how to respond to those feelings. Another, is to educate them about pregnancy, sexually-transmitted diseases, and the prevention of both. For generations, condoms have proven to be highly effective at preventing all of the above. Are they 100% effective? Actually, nothing is. But, they can be 98-99% effective. Nothing in life is guaranteed.

When I was young, nobody talked to me about prevention. Would I have used it if they did? I knew about it and didn't use it anyway. I'm not proud of that fact. It's just a fact. After having my baby, I began taking birth-control pills. My healthcare coverage through Welfare paid for those pills. I had no other healthcare coverage to depend on. If this coverage is taken away as a basic right of living in this country, regardless of how and why one becomes dependent on the government, that access should not be withheld. I remained on Welfare Assistance for three years. I think the Massachusetts limit of two years is too short to become independent as a single parent. But, I also believe that Welfare as a lifestyle is unhealthy and should not be encouraged. Nobody benefits from a "free ride". But, while receiving assistance, people should receive training if they have no skill, receive childcare so they have the time to learn that skill, and healthcare to protect both parent and child from environmental and genetic illness. The goal of assistance should be independence. Financial independence promotes a healthy family, a healthy mind and heart, and a healthy society.
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Sticking one's head in the sand is not a solution to preventing teen pregnancy. Addressing the realities of the human body and its response to stimuli as well as emotional reactions to that same stimuli is essential. As a society, we pay the price of unwanted babies, whether we like it or not; overtly or covertly. We either support them or we don't. Teaching prevention is certainly a key way to avoid having to support those children. But learning control over our bodies is not easy. We must do our part as parents and as a human community to support the education of our children about their bodies, minds and their hearts. For many, these types of discussions are too uncomfortable. What then happens to the children of those parents who are incapable of engaging in sexual-educational discussions? They are the children left to educate themselves. Like it was for me all those years ago, much of their education is through talking with friends or experimentation. Much of all of our education in life is experimentation. Taking risks and experimenting with life experiences is highly encouraged; as long as those experiments don't involve sex. Right?

As much as we memorize the theme song for an advertisement because it is repeated over and over again, so should education about our sexuality and responsibility be repeated. And, access to contraception should continue to be a part of normal healthcare coverage, like medication is for those suffering with afflictions because they got fat from over-indulgence over time. Both kinds of healthcare are preventable, and we must have a way to educate and keep repeating that information to humankind, of every age, until those lessons become the lifestyle of wellness. How does this education happen? Hopefully, it begins at home. But, what if it doesn't?

In this presidential election, I did a little research on where our candidates stand with regard to support of contraception access in this country. Here is a little of what I found:

Joe Biden: Voted YES on $100M to reduce teen pregnancy by education & contraceptives.
Voted to adopt an amendment to the Senate's 2006 Fiscal Year Budget that allocates $100 million for the prevention of unintended pregnancies. A YES vote would expand access to preventive health care services that reduce unintended pregnancy (including teen pregnancy), reduce the number of abortions, and improve access to women's health care. A YES vote would:

  • Increase funding and access to family planning services
  • Funds legislation that requires equitable prescription coverage for contraceptives under health plans
  • Funds legislation that would create and expand teen pregnancy prevention programs and education   programs concerning emergency contraceptives 

Reference: Appropriation to expand access to preventive health care services; Bill S.Amdt. 244 to S Con Res 18 ; vote number 2005-75 on Mar 17, 2005

Paul Ryan: Like his running mate Mitt Romney, Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan has not come out with a specific and solid position on contraception. However, as a Catholic he follows the church's teachings and his support of fetal personhood legislation indicates he believes life begins at conception. Therefore it can be assumed that he is opposed to oral contraceptives such as the pill and the morning after pill. As a staunch anti-abortion advocate, he is also critical of Planned Parenthood and has voted repeatedly to defund the organization which provides family planning tools, education, and support to women.

Barack Obama supports a comprehensive approach to sex education that focuses on abstinence but also recognizes the need for age-appropriate education to reduce the risk of teen pregnancy. He believes "that contraception has to be part of the education process."

He is an original co-sponsor of the Prevention First Act. Introduced in January 2007, it proposes to increase funding for family planning and comprehensive sex education that teaches both abstinence and safe sex methods; expand access to contraception; end insurance discrimination against contraception; and improve awareness about emergency contraception.

Mitt Romney said he would expand a Bush-era rule that allows doctors to deny women access to contraceptives."

"Bush-Era Rule": In the final days of the Bush administration, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) adopted a “conscience rule” permitting federally funded health care providers to opt out of health care services they found objectionable. Then Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt argued that the new rule was necessary to protect the “freedom of expression and action” of medical professionals, even if its supposed beneficiaries disagreed. The American Psychiatric Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, for instance, claimed that “doctors and nurses are already not required to perform abortions or sterilizations” and raised concerns about the rule’s vague definitions of “abortion” and the possibility that the redundant and unnecessary regulation could allow practitioners to deny women access to commonly used methods of birth control like “oral contraceptives, emergency contraception, and the IUD.”

President Obama condemned the rule and eventually reversed it. But yesterday, in an effort to strengthen his social conservative credentials and new-found pro-life position, Mitt Romney pledged to restore and strengthen the conscience protection:

    Q: Would you restore them and perhaps even strengthen them?

    ROMNEY: Absolutely. We have to allow people to practice their faith and when they have a matter of conscience that they can’t participate in some form of activity which violates their faith, then they should be able to abide by their faith, particularly when there are plenty of opportunities for people to have a service provided.

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