Friday, January 22, 2010

Hypocrisy Abounds on the Anniversary of Legal Abortion

Today we celebrate the 37th anniversary of Roe v Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. In the U.S. abortion rates continue to decline, but in countries where abortion is illegal, the number of abortions is really, really high. Double, triple, even quadruple that of countries where it’s legal.

Why is that? Because enlightened and developed societies recognize that abortion is part of the continuum of care for women.

It begins with access to health care for every member of society from birth to death. Preventing pregnancy is viewed as a public health concern like preventing tooth decay. Always brush your teeth. Always use a condom.

How is the United States doing overall on women’s health? Not as good as we should be. Overall, few women here die during pregnancy or childbirth -- we rank 20th out of 135 countries. Good not great.

But, among African American women, maternal mortality rates are 3½ times greater. Health care for a black woman living in the U.S. more resembles Uzbekistan or Iran than the United States.

Among young people in the U.S. rates of unintended pregnancy, HIV infection, and STD’s are rising. In the Latino and African American communities, they are skyrocketing.

What’s wrong?

Under Bill Clinton, a group of conservative lawmakers started a $50 million dollar program promoting “abstinence-only until marriage.”

During the Bush Administration, the program became the darling of the far, far right and it experienced explosive growth -- – it grew to over $250 million dollars every year.

Even though abstinence-only until marriage programs have been:
  • proven ineffective
  • shown to increase unsafe sex practices
  • discriminate against LGBT youth
  • are insensitive to victims of sexual assault & abuse
  • and, withhold vital information about safe sex practice
Money was handed out from the federal government to state governments, local school districts, private non-profits, and anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers -- anyone willing to carry their message: that premarital sex, at any age is harmful physically and harmful emotionally.

So, that definitely leaves out gay sex, at any age, or straight sex unless you’re married. And since studies show that over 90% of Americans who do marry will have sex beforehand – what kind of message are we giving youth? And why are we allowing our government to do this?

We know that a whole host of abstinence promoters from George Bush to Sarah Palin to Dick Cheney have daughters who have not followed the message preached by their parents.

Does anyone believe Jenna Bush was a virgin on her wedding night?

What about Bristol Palin -- now a spokesperson for abstinence? Her message is something like: “It didn’t work for me, but you should try it.”

And a personal favorite – Mary Cheney, daughter of Dick Cheney, who gave birth to a daughter with her lesbian partner. Were they abstinent until marriage? Oops, they can’t get married – they’re gay. Her father was part of an administration that not only demonized gay sex, it demonized gay marriage.

I don’t know about you, but hypocrisy is not something I value in our political leaders. But this sort of hypocrisy runs wild in our political discourse. And who does it harm?

The one who thought you couldn’t get pregnant the first time.
The one who thought that pulling out was safe.
The one with HIV.
The one with Chlamydia.
The one who didn’t have enough money to refill her pills.
The one whose boyfriend refused to use a condom.

During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to base policy decisions on science and public health. And in his first budget, just submitted to Congress, we have cause for optimism.

We may, just may, have eliminated all funds for abstinence-only-until marriage and in its place are plans for sex education programs. But just because there are funds available doesn’t mean that school districts will change.

We all know that many young people get their sex education or mis-education from television and their peers.

Don’t get me wrong -- some if it useful. On season 2 of Weeds, Uncle Andy taught me more about banana peels and masturbation than I ever knew.

Seriously, if we want to reduce unintended pregnancies, if we want to reduce STD’s and HIV, if we want to be inclusive of LGBT students, we need to take action.

As voters, as citizens, as people who care, you have that right. The right to make your voice heard. For your opinion to count. To try to make this a better world for yourself and for others.

Please contact your Pennsylvania state representative and let them know you want comprehensive reality-based sex education in every public school. Tell them you support HB 1162 and 1163. To find your state representative click here. If you would like more information about these bills, check out PARSE (Pennsylvanians for Responsible Sex Education). I promise you it won’t be hard. They absolutely will be nice to you on the phone.

As we mark the 37th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we can look around the world or look around our communities to see that reproductive rights and is hopelessly tied up in the politics of the day. But for a woman experiencing an unintended pregnancy, politics is the last thing on her mind. It is time to step back and reexamine the issues broadly. It is time to refocus the conversation on fairness and opportunity so that we all can make meaningful decisions about whether and when to bear children, how we conduct our sex lives, and to hold our government accountable for the information it provides. Our democracy depends on it.

- Carol Petraitis
Carol is the Director of the Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project at the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

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