He-Men, Virginity Pledges, and Bridal Dreams: Obama Administration Quietly Endorses Dangerous Ab-Only Curriculum May 2, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Uncategorized.
Tags: abstention, adolescent sexuality, birth control, Contraception | HIV and AIDS, danene sorace, debra hauser, elizabeth schroeder, health, human rights, monica rodriguez, reproductive rights, roger hollander, sex education, Sexual rights, Sexuality, sexuality education, Sexually Transmitted Infection, siecus, std, stds, STIs, virginity pledges
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by Debra Hauser, Advocates for Youth
and Monica Rodriguez, Sexuality Information & Education Council of the US (SIECUS)
May 1, 2012 – 9:20am, www.realitycheck.org
Sometime this month, an updated list of “evidence-based” teen pregnancy prevention programs was endorsed by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and posted to the website of the Office of Adolescent Health (OAH).
No notice, not even a press release to announce the addition of three programs to the coveted list of 28 deemed effective and carrying the HHS seal of approval. Until now, this list was the holy grail of the Administration’s commitment to a science-based approach to teen pregnancy prevention and a directive for grantees of the President’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative (TPPI).
So why the secrecy about the new additions? What does the Administration have to hide?
We have been around long enough to expect politics as usual in Washington, D.C. The backroom deals and secrecy should not surprise us. The jettisoning of young people and their sexual health for political expediency is not new. But, this blatant hypocrisy needs to stop. This latest example is just too much.
Perhaps the Administration realized that the inclusion of Heritage Keepers Abstinence Education on this select list would call into question its commitment to young people and their sexual health. Once again, they have succumbed to the political pressure of social conservatives and allowed the ideology of the right to prevail over the health and well-being of the nation’s youth. The Obama Administration’s endorsement of this abstinence-only-until marriage program runs in direct contradiction to its stated commitment to the health and well-being of young people and, quite possibly, its promise to uphold science and evidence.
The Trampling of Young People’s Sexual Health
The President has talked about his administration’s commitment to LGBT health and rights by recording his own “It Gets Better Video” and announcing support for both the Safe Schools Improvement Act and Student Non-Discrimination Act. And, the CDC has recognized the disproportionate impact of the HIV epidemic on young men who have sex with men and has committed millions of federal dollars to reducing the burden of disease on this population.
Yet, at best Heritage Keepers Abstinence Education ignores LGBT youth – and at worst it promotes homophobia. The stigmatization of LGBT youth throughout the program reinforces the cultural invisibility and bias these students already face in many schools and communities. The curriculum’s focus on marriage as the only appropriate context for sexual behavior further ostracizes LGBT youth and the children of LGBT parents who still cannot legally marry in most states.
The Director of the CDC has called teen pregnancy prevention and HIV prevention two of the country’s six “winnable battles,” and recent analysis of National Survey of Family Growth data trends indicates that significant reductions in teen births have been primarily fueled by increased contraceptive use.
Today roughly 40 percent of high school students have had sex and young people under age 29 continue to account for approximately 30 percent of all new cases of HIV infection.
Yet, Heritage Keepers Abstinence Education does not include information about the health benefits of contraception or condoms.
Igniting Fears and Spreading Misinformation
In fact, Heritage Keepers contains little or no information about puberty, anatomy, sexually transmitted diseases, or sexual behavior. Instead, most of its lessons are devoted to promoting the importance of heterosexual marriage and the value of abstinence before marriage. Students are asked to take virginity pledges and class time is devoted to having students envision and plan their wedding days. Heritage Keepers also teaches students that:
- “Males and females are aroused at different levels of intimacy. Males are more sight orientated whereas females are more touch orientated.” The implications of this difference are explained further: “This is why girls need to be careful with what they wear, because males are looking! The girl might be thinking fashion, while the boy is thinking sex. For this reason, girls have a responsibility to wear modest clothing that doesn’t invite lustful thoughts.” (Heritage Keepers, Student Manual, p. 46)
- “Sex is like fire. Inside the appropriate boundary of marriage, sex is a great thing! Outside of marriage, sex can be dangerous.” (Heritage Keeper, Student Manual, p. 22)
- “Cohabitation (when two people live together before marriage) is not like marriage! [Heritage Keepers, p. 30] When couples live together outside of marriage, the relationships are weaker, more violent, less [equal], and more likely to lead to divorce” (Heritage Keepers, Student Manual, p. 26)
- “One reason may be that when people bond closely through sexual activity, then break up and bond with someone else, and then someone else, it may become increasingly difficult to maintain a lasting bond.” (Heritage Keepers, Teacher Manual, p. 56)
- Sexual activity outside of marriage can lead to:“Sexually Transmitted Viruses, Sexually Transmitted Bacteria, Cervical Cancer, AIDS, Legal and financial responsibility for a child until he or she is at least 18, Raising a child alone, Emotional hurt and regret, Increased chance of abuse from a partner.” (Heritage Keepers, Student Manual, p. 35)
When planning their weddings during class:
- Young men are asked to envision their wedding day: “The doors swing open and there stands your bride in her white dress…This is the woman you have waited for (remained abstinent for) who has waited for you…This woman loves you and trusts you with all that she is and all that she has. You want to be strong, respectful and courageous for her. With all your heart, you want to protect her, and by waiting (sexually) you have.” (Heritage Keepers, Student Manual, p. 59)
- Young women are asked to envision their wedding day: “Everything is just as you have seen it in a million daydreams…” When the bride takes her father’s arm: “Your true love stands at the front. This is the man who you have waited for (remained abstinent for) and who has waited for you…This man wants to be strong and courageous for you, to cherish and protect you… You are ready to trust him with all that you have and all that you are, because you have waited (sexually) you have it all to give.” (Heritage Keepers, Student Manual, p. 49)
Limited Evidence of Effectiveness
Not only does the Heritage Keepers program ostracize LGBT youth, withhold life-saving information from sexually active and HIV-positive youth, and use fear-based messages to shame sexually active youth, youth who have experienced sexual assault, and youth living in “nontraditional” households, there are also questions about the effectiveness of this program to delay sexual initiation or favorably impact sexual behavior among youth. The original evaluation by Stan Weed, et al., of the Heritage Keepers program in 2005 was criticized by other researchers for having a flawed design and was never published, much less published in a peer-reviewed journal. Next, the program was reviewed in a congressionally mandated study of Title V abstinence-only-until marriage programs conducted by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., and published in 2007. Mathematica found no evidence to support the effectiveness of the program. Specifically, their interim report stated:
…the [Heritage Keepers] Life Skills Education Component did not have significant impacts on 11 of the 12 intermediate outcomes related to sexual abstinence. The one exception is a significant impact among middle school youth on their friends’ support for abstinence.
Mathematica’s final report concluded:
Findings indicate that the [Heritage Keepers Abstinence Program’s] Life Skills Education Component had little or no impact on sexual abstinence or activity.
But, we are expected to believe that the third time must be a charm? This winter, Mathematica was contracted by HHS to review evaluations for their rigor, and this time they recommended Heritage Keepers for inclusion on the list of HHS-approved programs. To date, there is still no published peer-reviewed manuscript to help assess what, if anything, changed for the program to make the list. Was a new study conducted? Did the authors submit new data or simply rework the old?
A Call for Evidence and Rights
Whether the data exists to support the program’s effectiveness is still in question, but the egregious content of the program is crystal clear. The Administration’s hypocrisy must end. It is time to embrace both an evidence- and a rights-based approach to youth sexual health promotion. Evidence of effectiveness is important, but it should not be sufficient. It is not enough to help some students delay sexual initiation while leaving others ill-equipped to protect themselves when they do have sex. It is unacceptable to promote teen pregnancy prevention at the cost of ostracizing LGBT youth, survivors of sexual assault, or youth who are sexually active. Thirty years of public health science clearly demonstrates that providing young people with information about the health benefits of both abstinence and contraception and condoms, does not cause young people to initiate sex earlier or have sex more often. Abstinence-only-until marriage programs leave young people unprepared. They are unethical.
Young people have the right to honest, age-appropriate, comprehensive sexual health information to help them protect their health and lives. The Administration should immediately remove Heritage Keepers Abstinence Education from the HHS-endorsed list of evidence-based programs currently posted on the Office of Adolescent Health’s (OAH) website. America’s youth deserve better.
Follow Debra Hauser on Twitter, @AdvocatesTweets
Tags: abby zimet, creationism, education, right wing, roger hollander, sex education, Teen Pregnancy, tennessee, tennessee schools
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Not content with pushing creationism in schools, the Tennessee Senate has seen fit to add “gateway sexual activities” like kissing and hand-holding to sins banned under an abstinence-based sex education curriculum that has to date succeeded in raising seeing their teen birth rate. And teachers can be sued for demonstrating hand-holding. Waytago Tennessee; you and Arizona are tied for first-place lunacy. Up next: bans on pre-gateway activities like eye contact and breathing.
Stop the Flood of Commie Sexy Lesbian Transgender Abortion-Loving Thin Mints Before It’s Too Late February 21, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Indiana, LGBT, Right Wing, Women.
Tags: abby zimet, abortion, family values, girl scouts, gsa, indiana, indiana politics, lesbians, lgbt, planned parenthood, pro choice, rep. bob morris, right wing, roger hollander, sex education, transgender, women, women's rights
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Roger’s note: I have long suspected the Girl Scouts of being a subversive organization and a threat to national security. These thoughts began for me when, as a young impressionable youth at summer boy scout camp (Camp Mohican, New Jersey), adjacent girl scouts were a constant temptation to our state of mind and bodily purity. It is obvious that young girls should not be allowed to “scout” when they need to be learning how to cook, clean house and — above all — obey. We can thank Indiana representative Morris for exposing this insidious danger. Repeat after me: NO GIRL SCOUT COOKIES! Try substituting genetically modified foods. It is good for the economy.
Okay, deep breath here as we confront yet another insidious threat to our great Republic. Asked to sign an Indiana House resolution honoring the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts, alert GOP lawmaker Rep. Bob Morris did some research and found “disturbing” evidence that the group is a “radicalized organization” and “tactical arm of Planned Parenthood” that supports abortion, promotes homosexuality, encourages girls to have sexy sex, believes in giving basic human rights to transgender females and otherwise works for “the destruction of traditional American family values.” Understandably, Morris thus voted – alone – to oppose the resolution. He also plans to yank his daughters out of the grasp of these heathens and take them to American Heritage Girls Little Flowers, where they will “learn about values and principles that will not confuse their conservative Hoosier upbringing,” and hopefully enter a 12-step program to free themselves of the addictive grasp of Thin Mints and other ungodly items. We wish them well.
From the Journal-Gazette of Fort Wayne, the text of letter from Indiana state Rep. Bob Morris, R-Fort Wayne, to fellow lawmakers.
February 18, 2012
Members of the Republic Caucus
Dear Fellow Representatives:
This past week I was asked to sign a House Resolution recognizing the 100th Anniversary of Girl Scouts of America. After talking to some well-informed constituents, I did a small amount of web-based research, and what I found is disturbing. The Girl Scouts of America and their worldwide partner, World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS), have entered into a close strategic affiliation with Planned Parenthood. You will not find evidence of this on the GSA/WAGGGS website—in fact, the websites of these two organizations explicitly deny funding Planned Parenthood.
Nonetheless, abundant evidence proves that the agenda of Planned Parenthood includes sexualizing young girls through the Girl Scouts, which is quickly becoming a tactical arm of Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood instructional series and pamphlets are part of the core curriculum at GSA training seminars. Denver Auxiliary Bishop James D. Conley of Denver last year warned parents that “membership in the Girl Scouts could carry the danger of making their daughters more receptive to the pro-abortion agenda.”
A Girl Scouts of America training program last year used the Planned Parenthood sex education pamphlet “Happy, Healthy, and Hot.” The pamphlet instructs young girls not to think of sex as “just about vaginal or anal intercourse.” “There is no right or wrong way to have sex. Just have fun, explore and be yourself!” it states. Although individual Girl Scout troops are not forced to follow this curriculum, many do. Liberal progressive troop-leaders will indoctrinate the girls in their troop according to the principles of Planned Parenthood, making Bishop Conley’s warning true.
Many parents are abandoning the Girl Scouts because they promote homosexual lifestyles. In fact, the Girl Scouts education seminar girls are directed to study the example of role models. Of the fifty role models listed, only three have a briefly-mentioned religious background – all the rest are feminists, lesbians, or Communists. World Net Daily, in a May 2009 article, states that Girl Scout Troops are no longer allowed to pray or sing traditional Christmas Carols.
Boys who decide to claim a “transgender” or cross-dressing life-style are permitted to become a member of a Girl Scout troop, performing crafts with the girls and participate in overnight and camping activities – just like any real girl. The fact that the Honorary President of Girl Scouts of America is Michelle Obama, and the Obama’s are radically pro-abortion and vigorously support the agenda of Planned Parenthood, should give each of us reason to pause before our individual or collective endorsement of the organization.
As members of the Indiana House of Representatives, we must be wise before we use the credibility and respect of the “Peoples’ House” to extend legitimacy to a radicalized organization. The Girl Scouts of America stand in a strong tradition that reflects with fidelity the traditional values of our homes and our families. The tradition extends from coast-to-coast and back through the past one hundred years. That said, I challenge each of you to examine these matters more closely before you extend your name and your reputation to endorse a group that has been subverted in the name of liberal progressive politics and the destruction of traditional American family values.
I have two daughters who have been active in the Girl Scouts of Limberlost Council in Northeastern Indiana. Now that I am aware of the influence of Planned Parenthood within GSA and other surprisingly radical policies of GSA, my two daughters will instead become active in American Heritage Girls Little Flowers organization. In this traditional group they will learn about values and principles that will not confuse their conservative Hoosier upbringing.
I have been told that, as of today, I am the only member not supporting the Girl Scout Resolution.
I challenge each of you to examine these matters and to decide carefully whether or not to sign the resolution.
Adults scarred by sex ed website April 27, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Education, Health.
Tags: abortion, adolesence, language, mariatalks, roger hollander, sex education, slang, teen age, tracy clark-flory
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Alarmed lawmakers are trying to shutter MariaTalks.org for its crude teen slang. Who are they protecting, exactly?
I could not visit MariaTalks.com fast enough when I heard that Massachusetts lawmakers were calling for the state-funded sex education website to be shut down over its use of vulgar language. “The language that is used on this site is disgusting,” said Representative Elizabeth Poirier. “There are words that I would find difficult to speak.” State Rep. Marc Lombardo added, “This website uses inappropriate and crude language to describe sexual acts.” Oh goody, I thought. I’m usually amused by examples of the frank sex talk that disturbs full-blown adults — but in this case the offensive language thoroughly disappointed.
The site, which is run by the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, centers on the fictional character Maria, an 18-year-old who dispenses sexual health information in teen-speak with the help of her aunt who is an OB/GYN. Maria has a diverse group of friends who accurately reflect the range of teenage experience that you see in the real world: Some are abstinent, some are sexually active; some are gay, some are straight; some have protected sex, some do not. The edgiest language can be found in a section of the website that explains various sexual acts in technical terms, alongside the slang translation kids are more likely to have heard. It’s a sweet, albeit sometimes awkward, adult attempt at “speaking their language.” For example: “digital sex” (“fingering/hand job”), “cunnilingus” (“going down on her”), “clitoris” (“clit”), “fellatio” (“giving head” or giving a “blow job”), “erection” (“hard-on”),” “anal sex” (“butt sex”), “anus” (“rectum” or “butthole”). Yes, they said “butthole” — I hope no one needs a paper bag to hyperventilate into.
The other issue that triggered local politicos’ protest is, of course, abortion. The site acknowledges that termination is an option for pregnant young women and that abortions are “safe and effective” — all of which is without a doubt factually correct. Before abortion is even mentioned, though, adoption and parenthood are listed as options — and yet state Rep. Colleen Garry calls it part of “a blatant agenda by the liberal part of our society to introduce children to sex and give them the opportunity to have an abortion without their parents’ involvement.” You know us liberals, we just can’t wait to pressure teenagers into having sex and to corrupt their innocent ears with “disgusting,” “inappropriate and crude” sexual slang.
This is one of those cases that reveal just how profoundly the war over sex education is influenced by adult fears of sex. Teenagers aren’t the issue here — they’re the ones generating this apparently horrifying slang, after all — but rather the alleged grownups who want to stick their fingers in their ears, hum a pleasant little tune and protect themselves from the scary and complex reality of human desire. When I read Rep. Poirier’s remark that “there are words that I would find difficult to speak,” I genuinely and affectionately think: Poor darling, if only your youthful curiosity had been met with support — and awkward adult attempts at speaking your language — instead of shame and reproach.
Inside Bush’s War on Birth Control March 27, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Women.
Tags: abstinence only, anti-abortion, birth control, bush administration, faith based, fda, food and drug, marie cocco, morning after pill, Obama, plan b, roger hollander, sex education, Teen Pregnancy
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www.truthdig.com, Posted on Mar 26, 2009
By Marie Cocco
For those whose nostalgia for the Bush administration is unfulfilled by former Vice President Dick Cheney’s snarling television appearance, there is a new window into the soul of the old regime. It is the brutally frank account of how political operatives and ideological helpmates of George W. Bush violated the law in their efforts to keep birth control away from American women—particularly teenagers at the greatest risk of an unplanned and life-altering pregnancy.
The broad outlines of the case against Bush’s Food and Drug Administration for trying to block the approval of over-the-counter sales of the morning-after pill, or Plan B, are widely known. For more than five years, the loyal Bushies at the agency blocked action by subverting science, overruling medical professionals and abandoning FDA standards that have long governed how drugs are switched from prescription-only to over-the-counter availability.
It was done, of course, at the behest of anti-abortion zealots who consider many commonly used birth control methods as equivalent to terminating a pregnancy. When the FDA finally approved over-the-counter sales in 2006, it restricted them to women 18 and older and tried to impede the pill’s use by insisting that pharmacies keep the drug out of plain view.
U.S. District Judge Edward R. Korman, ruling in a lawsuit brought by the drug’s sponsors and others, now has ordered the FDA to reconsider the age and availability restrictions on the morning-after pill.
His decision is a chilling compendium of accounts by doctors and other FDA professionals who were routinely overruled by the president’s political henchmen. Sandra Kweder, a veteran of the agency’s office that dealt with new drugs, testified of being told by superiors that the Bush White House was behind decision-making on the morning-after pill, and “it was made very clear that there were a lot of constituents who would be very unhappy with … an over-the-counter Plan B and … [there was] part of the public that needed to have the message that we were taking adolescents and reproductive issues seriously.”
But taking these issues seriously would have meant acknowledging that those most likely to benefit from quick availability of birth control after unprotected sex are, in fact, teenagers. In 2004, the court decision says, Curtis Rosebraugh of the FDA’s over-the-counter drug team not only recommended approval, but “he suggested that Plan B could decrease unwanted teen pregnancy by up to 70 percent and reduce teen abortions.”
The court’s decision is tragically relevant. The teen birth rate has increased for the past two years—after 14 consecutive years of decline.
Was the FDA’s ideological war on birth control a cause? No one can know. What we know is that it certainly did not help a distraught teenager.
Nor did the pernicious spread of federally financed abstinence-only sex education programs during the Bush era. Every sound study of these programs has shown them to have failed at preventing teen sexual activity. Some have indicated that when kids who’ve been through abstinence-only programs do begin to have sex, they are less likely to use birth control. Even Bristol Palin says that telling teens to be abstinent “is not realistic at all.”
The Obama administration’s FDA is expected to conduct the new review of the morning-after pill that the court ordered. Anti-birth-control advocates are out, scientists are in. There’s little doubt that the drug’s safety and effectiveness—the only considerations that were supposed to be taken into account in the first place—will hold sway.
Yet White House plans on abstinence-only education programs remain foggy. Its budget blueprint calls for financing “evidence-based” sex education that provides “medically accurate and age-appropriate information” to youths. This is the political code we’ve been forced to start using for giving teenagers the facts about pregnancy and birth control. But the president has also vowed to fund “faith-based efforts” to reduce teen pregnancy.
It takes a leap of faith, indeed, to see how these two objectives can be reconciled without sacrificing science—and the lives of girls and women who should be able to depend on it.
Marie Cocco’s e-mail address is mariecocco(at)washpost.com.
© 2009, Washington Post Writers Group
The Morning After Pill Conspiracy March 24, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Women.
Tags: anti-contraception, bush administration, bush political criminal, contraception, cristina page, emergency contraception, fda, ignorance only sex education, morning after pill, plan b, planned parenthood, pregnancy prevention, public health, roger hollander, sex education, teen motherhood, Teen Pregnancy, Unwanted Pregnancy, virgity pledges, women's health, women's rights
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Published on Tuesday, March 24, 2009 by Huffington Post
If Bush waged a war on science then yesterday the war crime tribunal spoke. The U.S. District court of the Eastern District of New York ruled that the Bush administration had politicized a once respected regulatory agency, the FDA, for bending the law to its right wing purposes. The court’s condemnation was comprehensive and brutal, all but labeling the Bushies political criminals. At issue was the FDA’s decision to overrule its staff recommendation and restrict access for adolescents to one of the most effective methods of preventing unwanted pregnancy, emergency contraception. The Court, in one excoriating stroke, reversed the first (and let’s hope last) ideological decision the FDA ever made.
The decision could not have been more dismissive of the Bush administration’s maneuverings. Mincing no words, the Court concluded that the FDA “acted in bad faith and in response to political pressure,” “departed in significant ways from the agency’s normal procedures,” and engaged in “repeated and unreasonable delays.” The court also found that the FDA’s justification for denying over-the-counter access to minors “lacks all credibility,” and was based on “fanciful and wholly unsubstantiated ‘enforcement’ concerns.” The Court ordered the FDA to reconsider it’s decision based on scientific evidence alone. In the meantime, it ordered the agency to make the contraceptive available over-the-counter to 17-year-olds within 30 days as it now does for adults.
The decision comes amidst news that US teen birth rates are spiking for the second year in a row. Those Bush era virginity pledgers are shifting smoothly into teen motherhood — the legacies of ignorance-only sex education and restricted access to and information about contraception.
The decision was prompted by a case, Tummino v. von Eschenbach, brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) in 2005. The plaintiffs in the case were a grassroots groups called the Morning After Pill Conspiracy along with over 70 medical and public health organizations, scientists, and parents. For those who did not follow the case closely it’s worth reviewing not only how the Bushies imposed their theological agenda, but how they indifferently bent regulatory procedures. The administration ruthlessly ignored the facts and coerced FDA scientists to implement its anti-science agenda. According to a CRR press release, “Before its action on Plan B (emergency contraception) the FDA had never restricted a non-prescription drug based on a person’s age, nor had the Bush Administration ever been consulted by the FDA about an over-the-counter drug application. Depositions of senior FDA officials by the Center in 2006 indicated that the Bush Administration sought to unduly influence the agency during the Plan B application review process. Testimony also indicated that officials involved in the decision-making process were concerned about losing their jobs if they did not follow the administration’s political directives.” It was in other words, get with the program.
CRR continued: “Other evidence uncovered during the lawsuit showed that the agency repeatedly departed from its own established procedures during the FDA case, from filling the reproductive health committee with political “operatives” to making a decision to reject over-the-counter access to Plan B before completion of the standard review.”
For years, I’ve been following the right’s takeover of what had been a scientifically driven process. In researching a book, How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America, I studied the violation of the FDA in detail. One fundamental thing I learned: anti-contraception crusaders were not just interested in limiting access for minors. Their true intent was to prevent all women from easy access to the pregnancy prevention method. Their more uncensored leaders, like Judie Brown of the American Life League, admitted as much, explaining, “the best thing the FDA can do now for the American women and their progeny is to take the next logical step and remove these pills for the market altogether.”
In the service of this goal, it seemed that nothing was off limits, not scientific integrity nor the will of the majority. The decision to limit minors’ access to emergency contraception was based on phony arguments put forth in particular by Bush appointee to the FDA panel, David Hager, a long-standing opponent of contraception. Hager’s supposed concern was that the proven usefulness of the medication would be overshadowed by 9 and 10 year olds who would “abuse” the drug, as if it were some sort of crack for kids. During the application review process, Hager called for unavailable research to quell his “concerns” that the drug would be abused by pre-teens. “The plans for introduction of Plan B into the non-treatment setting need more evaluation if it is going to be generalizably available to a nine year old regardless, a ten year old regardless of, you know; there’s no restriction,” Hager explained.
This line of argument shocked other panel members. One, Dr. Abbey Berenson, a professor of pediatrics and ob/gyn at University of Texas, countered, “I would just like to make a point that it is extremely rare that the nine or ten year old has menstrual cycles and so if we’re going to talk about adolescents, let’s talk about the mean age of menarche in this country is 12, and I can’t imagine where a nine-year-old would get $40 to go buy Plan B over the counter and who would buy it for this nine year old.”
The drug had been studied as part of the effort to determine whether EC was safe. Females from twelve to fifty had been sampled, including sixty-six between the age of twelve and sixteen years old. Adolescents understood 60 to 97 percent of the drug-product package directions and materials, at a comprehension level similar to that of women as a whole and one that easily met standards previously accepted for the approval of the other over-the-counter drugs.
Hager continued to create a straw man, or in this case, straw girl, that defenseless nine or ten year old, and then imagined that she was taken advantage of. It was an argument that none of his illustrious fellow panel members thought had merit. Hager nonetheless persisted: “Well I’m sorry, but there are young women that age [under twelve] who do start menstrual cycles and although the numbers aren’t large, it is enough of a concern that if there’s an 11-year old who is having a menstrual period and becoming sexually active, then she chooses to access this means of emergency contraception, and my only point is not the number. It’s that we don’t have any information available on that younger age population.”
Of course, less than six percent of girls younger than age eleven have started their menses, and 4.2 percent of girls under age thirteen are sexually active. Take that microscopic demographic and divide it by the percent that know EC even exists and who also have $40 to drop and you have the nearly non-existent basis for Hager’s, and what would eventually be the FDA’s, argument against extending over-the-counter access to EC for minors.
After the FDA decision to restrict minor’s access to the contraceptive method, several panel members who favored over-the-counter access expressed their outrage at the decision, writing, “If groups with moral objections wish to prevent the sale of a class of drugs, they should proceed through the legislative process. They should not corrupt the scientific review process of the FDA to achieve their ends. We believe it will be very hard to put this genie back in the bottle. We squander public trust at out peril.”
Today, the US district court finally got the anti-contraception genie, and some of the bullying lawless politics of the Bush era, back in the bottle, at least for now. As for the public’s trust, that’ll take a little longer to fix.
For breaking news on threats to birth control access and information visit birthcontrolwatch.org.
Texas: The state of sex (mis)education February 27, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Education.
Tags: abstinence, abstinence only, Children and teens, condoms, education, gender stereotypes, health, politics, pre-marital sex, roger hollander, Sex and relationships, sex education, sexual orientation, stds, suicide, texas, texas education, tracy clark-flory
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I wish this were a bad joke — the unfair caricature of Texas that you might see on a Prius’ bumper sticker — but it isn’t: a whopping 94 percent of school districts in the lone star state teach only abstinence, according to a new report. Worse yet, the review by two professors at Texas State University found that “sexuality education materials” used in the state “regularly contain factual errors and perpetuate lies and distortions about condoms and STDs.” They also found that classes promoted gender stereotypes, sexual orientation biases, shame and fear. Oh, what fun!
Disturbing as they may be, those top-line summaries of the findings are nothing compared to excerpts included in the report (PDF) from actual teaching materials. Suicide is a favorite scare-tactic: One program predicts non-virginal students’ miserable future, “You know people talk about you behind your back because you’ve had sex with so many people … Finally you get sick of it all and attempt suicide.” There are fun skits about suicide, too. In one, titled “Jumping Off the Bridge,” the moral of the story is put like so: “Giving a condom to a teen is just like saying, ‘Well if you insist on killing yourself by jumping off the bridge, at least wear these elbow pads — they may protect you some?’” (Got it: Handing out condoms = assisted suicide.)
Pre-marital sex presents a triple-threat, though: If you don’t kill yourself, you’ll probably die anyway — and if you don’t die, you’ll probably kill your sex partner. In response to a question about having pre-marital sex, an abstinence-only education video warns: “Well, I guess you’ll have to be prepared to die. And you’ll probably take with you your spouse and one or more of your children.” (Noted: Pre-marital sex = murder-suicide.) Boys are warned that they might kill their girlfriend by having sex: If you give her HPV, she’ll “probably end up with a radical hysterectomy, cervical cancer, and possibly death.” (So, you know, sure, go ahead and have sex, you murderer.) A curriculum for wee little sixth-graders exclaims: “WARNING! Going on this ride could change your life forever, result in poverty, heartache, disease, and even DEATH.” Another cautions in all-caps: “FOR OUR YOUNG PEOPLE TO ENGAGE IN SEX NOW IS LIKE PLAYING RUSSIAN ROULETTE WITH ALL BUT ONE CHAMBER FULL!”
Suicide, death, murder? These programs gotta be pretty good at scaring teens out of having sex, right? Mmm, not exactly. Texan teens “rate well above national averages on virtually every published statistic involving sexual risk-taking behaviors,” according to the report, and the state has the third-highest teen birthrate in the country.
Where Did the Abortion Reduction Agenda Come From? February 19, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Women.
Tags: roger hollander, abortion, contraception, women's rights, neoconservatives, religious right, evangelicals, abortion reduction, sex education, pro choice, roe v. wade, reproductive health, family planning, unplanned pregnancies, democratic party, frederick clarkson, anti-abortion, right to life, robert casey sr., abortion criminalization, clurt, adopton
Frederick Clarkson on February 16, 2009
You could say this is a story about the old adage: the more things change, the more they stay the same.
The rise of the concept of “abortion reduction” as a worthy policy goal, currently being promoted by some in the Democratic Party, has generally tracked the rise of the Party’s fortunes of the over the past few years and the accompanying decline in the likelihood that the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade. The Democrats’ ascent, and Roe‘s resilience, has been a tough reality for antiabortion leaders to face, but they are not out of strategic and tactical options. Politics is the art of the possible.
Abortion reduction, currently being sold as the “common ground” between the pro-choice and anti-abortion camps, has its roots in anti-abortion strategy developed over several months in 1996 by a coalition of 45 anti-abortion and religious right leaders. The America We Seek: A Statement of Pro-Life Principle and Concern was also signed by several Democratic-leaning activists, most significantly, former Governor Robert Casey Sr. of Pennsylvania (father of the current Senator Robert Casey Jr.). The manifesto was published the May 1996 issue of the flagship journal of Catholic neoconservatism, First Things (edited by the late John Richard Neuhaus); in The National Review; and on the web site of Priests for Life, headed by the militant Fr. Frank Pavone. The source of the opportunity to reduce abortions, they found, resided in the holdings of 1992 Supreme Court decision in Casey v. Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania, named for the former governor.
Among the forty-five were also some of the leading proponents of abortion reduction ideas now ascendant in Democratic Party circles: Jim Wallis of Sojourners; Professor David Gushee, then of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action.
“Now, as pro-life leaders and scholars,” they declared, “we want to propose a program of action…” And the core of that program was abortion reduction by erecting barriers to access to abortion “in all 50 states” and creating incentives for women to carry unplanned pregnancies to term.
While the signers agreed that the regulations upheld in the Casey decision do “do not afford any direct legal protection to the unborn child,” they emphasized that “experience has shown that such regulations–genuine informed consent, waiting periods, parental notification--reduce abortions in a locality, especially when coupled with positive efforts to promote alternatives to abortion and service to women in crisis.” [Emphasis added]
Abortion Reduction and Criminalization
This was, however, cast in the context of wider goal of criminalization. Having declared abortion to be among other things, child killing, an act of “lethal violence,” and a usurpation of the rule of law, the signatories added: “Any criminal sanctions considered in such legislation [then being considered by Congress] should fall upon abortionists, not upon women in crisis.” They further urged Congress to “recognize the unborn child as a human person entitled to the protection of the Constitution.”
They believed that “a broad-based legal and political strategy is essential,” and therefore, found “no contradiction between a rigorous adherence to our ultimate goal and the pursuit of reforms that advance us toward that goal.”
“Legal reforms that fall short of our goal,” they concluded, “but which help move us toward it, save lives and aid in the process of moral and cultural renewal.”
Other prominent signatories, led by host George Weigel of the Ethics and Public Policy Center (the official biographer of Pope John Paul II) included Catholic legal scholar Robert P. George of Princeton; Harvard Law professor Mary Ann Glendon, (whom George W. Bush would appoint as Ambassador to the Vatican), James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Ralph Reed of the then-powerful Christian Coalition, law professor Michael W. McConnell of the University of Chicago; Beverly LaHaye of Concerned Women for America; William Kristol then of the Project for the Republican Future, now a contributor to Fox News, and Jean Bethke Elshtain, a political philosopher at the University of Chicago, and currently a co-chair of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
While this top drawer coalition of antiabortion leaders of the day did not mention sexuality education and contraception as legitimate means of preventing unwanted pregnancies (and thus “abortion reduction”), at least three of them went on to play prominent roles in the development of the “common ground” agenda on abortion reduction recently announced by the Democratic Party-aligned DC think tanks, Faith in Public Life and Third Way, in their document Come Let Us Reason Together: A Governing Agenda to End the Culture Wars (CLURT). This document highlighted sexuality education (with an emphasis on abstinence), access to contraception, and economic supports for adoption, as areas of “common ground” on abortion.
CLURT did not mention erecting further barriers of the sort legitimized in the Casey decision. Nor did it address the need to provide for better access to abortion care, which unavailable in 87% of the counties in the United States, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Among the seven principal authors of CLURT, Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action also signed the 1996 antiabortion manifesto; while David Gushee, now of Mercer University states in his curriculum vitae that he “participated in the drafting” of the document. Jim Wallis of Sojourners signed both.
“Public policy has its limits,” Gushee declared at the January 15th press conference announcing CLURT. “We call for abortion reduction. I support this because I believe that one of the things that must not be done to human beings is to abort them; and yet those facing crisis pregnancies need help to create the conditions in which they can sustain and protect the lives for which they are now responsible.”
Abortion Reduction Reductionism
What is remarkable is how one of the signature antiabortion tactics of the 1990s has now migrated into the Democratic Party under the guise of offering “common ground.” Abortion reduction was once a matter of preventing people from exercising their right to receive and to provide abortion care. Now a few politically savvy Protestant evangelicals and an apparently growing number of Democrats pols are willing to redefine historic ideas of the role of sexuality education and family planning in terms of abortion reduction.
Used in this way, along with economic supports for pregnancy and adoption, pro-choice politicians including President Obama use the term and its close variants to show pro-lifers that they can better reduce the number of abortions than anti-choice Republicans.
It is clever politics. But there is more to it. There are profound differences just underneath the surface of a seemingly minor tug of war over semantics. These differences are blurred by the invocation of common ground language. The difference was cast in sharp relief last year during negotiations over the wording of the Democratic Party Platform position on abortion. Prolife evangelicals led by Jim Wallis (and CLURT co-author Joel Hunter) disagreed with pro-choice leaders over language that sought to reduce the need for abortion as distinct from the number of abortions. In the end, the platform unambiguously supported Roe and recognized the need for abortion. In exchange, the platform also called for greater support for women who seek to carry their pregnancies to term and for the adoption option. But the platform avoided the term “abortion reduction.”
But have Gushee, Wallis and Sider changed their views? In 1996 they believed that there is never a “need” for abortion; rejected the idea that it is ever a moral choice; and unequivocally stated that criminalization was a goal of antiabortion legislation — even while they also pursued abortion reduction tactics under the rubric of Casey. Today, they face different political circumstances and the Democrats have made some accommodations in the platform that will likely be implemented in legislation.
The CLURT statement joins a few pro-choice think tankers with a few prominent moderate evangelicals in agreeing on broad principles related to sexuality education and family planning. But that’s it. Why then, is it important?
It is important because of the prominence of these groups in seeking to define what a faith-based, common ground “governing agenda” might look like. But it is significant also because of what it does and what it does not do.
First, in its summary language, CLURT seeks to have it both ways, papering over vital differences with the slight of hand of language.
“Reducing abortions (reducing abortion through reducing unintended pregnancies, supporting pregnant women, and increasing support for adoption)” [Bolding in the original]
Second, the pro-choice agenda has always been about expanding access to abortion such that everyone who needs one can get one; and emphasizing that there should be comprehensive sex ed and access to contraception so that women and girls can control their own reproductive future and will not have to make the choice between termination and carrying a pregnancy to term. But unlike the Democratic Platform, there is nothing in the CLURT statement that acknowledges the right to or need for abortion — let alone that universal access is a dream that is far from realized.
Third, there is nothing in the CLURT document that suggests that Gushee, Wallis and Sider and their ant-iabortion allies will not pursue Casey-based policies that erect obstacles to abortion in the name of reduction, in those states where it is politically possible to do so.
That these leaders were able to agree in principle on sexuality education and family planning is no small thing. But it is not the same thing as finding common ground on abortion nor does it reflect a commitment to reducing barriers to abortion or in any way increasing access.
The concept of “abortion reduction” as a public policy has come a long way since 1996, and at the same time, no distance at all.
The Obama Mandate: End Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs February 19, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Health.
Tags: abstinance only, abstinence only, aclu, amplify, church state separation, condom, condom use, Economic Crisis, family planning, federal budget, gender sterotyes, government waste, health, hiv prevention, human rights, jodi jacobson, legal momentum, Nancy Pelosi, president obama, racism, religious right, reproductive health, republicans, roger hollander, sex education, sexual health, sexual identity, siecus, std, teen childbearing, Teen Pregnancy, unintended pregnancy
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Jodi Jacobson on February 18, 2009
Republicans these days are very, very deeply concerned about “wasteful government spending.” House Minority Leader John Boehner complained about wasteful spending in the stimulus. Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana stated: “More big government spending…won’t cure what ails the American economy.” House Republican Whip Eric Kantor made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows talking “waste, waste, waste.” And now, according to the New York Times, the National Republican Congressional Committee is launching ads blasting House Democrats on the stimulus bill, which it ridicules as “chockfull of wasteful Washington spending.”
You know what? I agree. Let’s get rid of that wasteful Washington spending.
And I have a concrete suggestion that will save over $200 million in cold hard cash right away, plus billions of dollars in future healthcare and related economic costs!
Sound too good to be true?
Really, it’s not a gimmick. It’s very simple: We just need to zero out funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in the next budget cycle.
These programs don’t work to reduce sexual activity in teens, they don’t work to reduce sexually transmitted infections and they don’t work to reduce unintended pregnancies.
What is worse, they waste money both on the front end and the back end: The failure of these programs to effectively contribute to preventing unintended pregnancies and infections from the outset actually costs more money in the long run. In 2004, for example, teen childbearing in the United States cost taxpayers at least $9.1 billion, never mind the costs of sexually transmitted infections. So by investing in abstinence-only programs, taxpayers actually are losing billions at a rapid clip.
So it’s easy. Eliminate the funding; we all save money now and money later.
Given the general concern about wasteful spending, the desire to ensure the prudent investments of taxpayer funds in ways that yield positive benefits, concerns about rising health care costs, and the now-overwhelming evidence that abstinence-only programs don’t work, one might assume it will be easy to reach bipartisan agreement that abstinence-only programs, like the bridges to nowhere of the past, should just be cut. No bickering, no posturing…pure and simple. Should be easy.
We will soon find out.
Given they control the White House and Congress, the ball actually is in the Democrats’ court for now. Several observers have suggested it may be too late to remove funding for abstinence-only from the Fiscal Year (FY) 2009 appropriations bill, which has yet to be passed and which will likely be rolled into a giant omnibus bill to be dealt with by Congress. (Although given their concerns, perhaps the Republicans will offer an amendment to take it out?)
But President Obama is expected to release his first federal budget request, for FY 2010, at the end of February, and the pressure is on to eliminate ab-only funding in this next fiscal cycle. A number of leading advocacy groups, including Advocates for Youth and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the US (SIECUS) have launched campaigns urging President Obama to do just that. Both point to promises made by Obama during the campaign and in his inaugural speech to put an end to these programs, and to ensure evidence drives public policy. (To take action see Advocates for Youth here, and SIECUS here).
Candidate Obama, for example, “firmly oppose(d) federal funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.” He also declared support for “comprehensive sex education that is age-appropriate,” and asserted that providing “science-based sex education in schools [is] the right thing to do.” As a Senator, he was a co-sponsor of the Responsible Education About Life (REAL) Act, which would provide funding for comprehensive, medically accurate sex education, and the Prevention First Act which supports efforts to reduce unintended pregnancy and increase access to contraceptive services and information. Moreover, during the transition, a Congressional liaison from the President-Elect’s transition team reportedly communicated directly to congressional leaders Obama’s firm opposition to continued funding for abstinence-only programs, expressing again his full support for comprehensive approaches.
Still, many advocates want Obama to make this crystal clear when he releases his budget and not, according to fears expressed by some, just give “broad guidance to Congress” as he did with the stimulus package. They want the White House to make its priorities known. James Wagoner, President of Advocates for Youth, notes that:
“What President Obama does on abstinence-only-until-marriage funding in his first budget will be the flagship signal for young people regarding the President’s credibility on reproductive and sexual health issues. Obama was explicitly supportive of comprehensive sex education and science-based approaches to public policy during his campaign. This budget must zero out abstinence-only funding. It simply has to go.”
The majority of Americans apparently agree with Wagoner and the President on comprehensive programming. According to a study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, originally published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, the majority of American adults (80.4 percent) favor a balanced approach to sex education in schools, regardless of their political leanings. The survey gauged strong support for teaching children about both abstinence and other ways of preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. And, as Wagoner points out, support for the stimulus package proposed by the President polled 20 points higher among 18 to 29 year olds then the rest of the population, indicating the very high level of political support among young adult voters for “doing the right thing.”
And here is where it gets a little complicated.
First of all, under the Bush Administration, funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs rose from $97.5 million in 2000 to $215 million in 2008. The funding kept rising, even when Democrats were in control of Congress, and even after numerous studies, including a federally-funded evaluation conducted by Mathematica Policy Research and published in April 2007, showed that these programs were ineffective. The Mathematica study reviewed four carefully selected abstinence-only education programs, and showed that youth enrolled in the programs were no more likely than those not in the programs to delay sexual initiation, to have fewer sexual partners, or to abstain entirely from sex.
Still, the programs retained strong support from powerful organizations, like the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and from a wide array of conservative evangelical groups receiving federal funds to promote abstinence-only. As a result, some members of Congress, including Congressman David Obey, Chair of the Appropriations Committee, have been reluctant to cut such funding in the past. Obey, for one, comes from a heavily Catholic district near Milwaukee. Absent a clear message from the White House that the days of abstinence-only are over, some fear that members like Obey may not remove this funding from the House appropriations bill.
And if the stimulus debacle was any indication, we can anticipate that, despite their concern for waste in government, at least a few Republican leaders will try to twist the debate on funding of abstinence-only programs until the facts lay in tatters on the green room floors of cable stations across the land. If that happens, then other members, even Democrats, may feel pressured to act against both the evidence and that ever-invoked “will of the American people” just to mollify the loudest in the farthest right.
Because of these complicated politics, nothing is guaranteed. To ensure the House does the right thing, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a strong supporter of evidence-based programs, needs to use her leadership role and make clear to her members from the outset that the goal is to end funding for these programs once and for all.
Second, there is no line item for comprehensive sexual health education in the federal budget, and bills proactively supporting these programs have yet to be passed. Related programs also desperately need additional funding. According to Bill Smith, Vice President for Public Policy at SIECUS:
“The challenge is not just about getting rid of funding for abstinence-only programs, it’s also about fulfilling the committment to fund comprehensive sex education, increasing HIV prevention and Title X funding and about increased funding for the broader reproductive and sexual health services needed by people throughout this country.”
So to really fulfill his own mandate, Obama has to cut out money for programs that don’t work and proactively fund programs that do work, and which people urgently need, like family planning, sexual health education, HIV prevention and the rest.
For now, however, abstinence-only remains a boondoggle and a dangerous one at that. Originally reported by Joe Sonka on Amplify, an Advocates for Youth site, and then on RH Reality Check, one such program supported by $800,000 of your tax dollars pays a clown with dubious credentials (ok, I admit I do not know the full curriculum at clown school) to teach adolescents about “saving sex for marriage.” Great for that first birthday party, but not so much for safer sex, unless he teaches creative use of the balloons. And even then I am not so sure. But clearly the content of this program was embarrassing enough that once exposed, both the clown, and Elizabeth’s New Life Center, lucky recipient of all these funds, removed information regarding the program from their respective web sites.
And while the clown example may provide fodder for late-night television comedy, other programs engage in dangerous reinforcement of attitudes and behaviors that denigrate women, blacks, hispanics and homosexuals. For example, another program uncovered by Amplify, again in Ohio, involved a video role-play of four teens at a party, one of whom, a female, offers to drive her drunk (male) friend home. When he rapes her, the role-play blames her for “putting herself in a risky situation” and for “having a reputation,” suggesting her claims of rape are suspect. So this program actually blames the victim for the rape, and dismisses the guy’s behavior as a “boys will be boys” escapade. Apparently strength of conviction by the organization running this program about the video dissipated as fast as you could say “blog post,” because once again, the video got changed right after the program was exposed. Shows you what a little “transparency” might find.
Reinforcement of prejudicial attitudes, bias and discrimination based on race and sexual identity also are rife within these programs, many of which are subject to little if any oversight for content. A report by Legal Momentum, for example, found that many federally funded abstinence-only programs discourage condom use, distort reproductive health information, and reinforce harmful gender stereotypes. “Many programs also perpetuate sexist and racist stereotypes about women of color,” adds the report.
One example is ’The Choice Game’ which:
“Has a ‘Midwest School version’ that features 95 percent white students and an ‘urban school version,’ featuring ’55% African-American actors, 24% Hispanic actors and the remaining are Caucasian.’ The urban version contains stereotypes of African-American women as sexually aggressive and as drug users, and of African-American men as likely to end up in jail. In sharp contrast, the Midwest materials depict white students working to maintain their ‘traditional values.’”
Reports by Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union reveal similar findings. And a 2004 report by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform found that
“over 80% of the abstinence-only curricula, used by over two-thirds of grantees [reviewed] in 2003, contain false, misleading, or distorted information about reproductive health.”
In short, the programs reviewed by the Committee took an industrial-size eraser to the line between separation of church and state, relying on heavy does of prosyletizing and religious content to get their ineffective messages across.
Finally, a report by Douglas Kirby, a Senior Research Scientist at ETR Associates conducted for the National Campaign to Reduce Teen Pregnancy stated that:
At present, there does not exist any strong evidence that any abstinence program delays the initiation of sex, hastens the return to abstinence, or reduces the number of sexual partners. In addition, there is strong evidence from multiple randomized trials demonstrating that some abstinence programs chosen for evaluation because they were believed to be promising actually had no impact on teen sexual behavior. That is, they did not delay the initiation of sex, increase the return to abstinence or decrease the number of sexual partners. At the same time, they did not have a negative impact on the use of condoms or other contraceptives. Studies of abstinence programs have not produced sufficient evidence to justify their widespread dissemination.
What more do we need to know to avoid putting several hundred million more dollars through a giant shredder?
In this new era of citizen participation, accountability, and respect for evidence and human rights, it is up to us to ensure our elected officials get rid of this particular barrel of pork.
“On one hand,” says Marcela Howell, Vice President of Policy and Communications at Advocates for Youth,
“We have a Democratic President who has pledged to get rid of this spending. We have a majority of Democrats in Congress who have publicly stated opposition to this funding, and we have a Republican party on the hunt for wasteful spending. It seems like an easy decision.”
It should be easy. But to be honest, given this situation, if we can’t mobilize enough grassroots strength to ensure the President and Congress get rid of these funds, bring back the clown because the joke is on us.
Shhh… Don’t Speak of Abortion: Roe v. Wade at Thirty-Six January 23, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Women.
Tags: roger hollander, poverty, abortion, contraception, health care, women's rights, healthcare, evangelicals, abortion reduction, reproductive choice, sex education, pro choice, planned parenthood, reproductive rights, family planning, frederick clarkson, morals, roe vs. wade, conservative evangelicals, third way, pro-life, abortion access, anti-abortion, women and poverty, guttmacher institute
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Recent efforts to reach a compromise between evangelicals and liberals have managed to avoid the discussion of abortion altogether. The fact remains: according to many clergy representing millions of Americans of all faiths and denominations, the moral reality of women’s lives is that sometimes abortion is the best moral choice.
The moral of Rev. Fowler’s story cuts to the core of the politics of abortion in America. Though nominally a right under Roe vs. Wade, decided thirty-six years ago today, the reality is that there are many obstacles—some insurmountable—to both receiving and providing abortion care in the United States. And yet, strange as it may seem, there remains a steady silence about abortion which, according to pro-choice leaders, is party due to the stigmatization of abortion. The result is that much of what passes for discussion is really just an elaborate avoidance of the subject.
The latest high profile exhibition of this avoidance is the “Governing Agenda” recently published by two Democratic Party-aligned Washington, DC-based think tanks, Third Way and Faith in Public Life. This document—two years in the making, and endorsed by a variety of prominent evangelicals—and the process by which it came into being have been met with both accolades and tough criticism. Intriguingly, the document does not actually discuss abortion, that most controversial of subjects on which it claims to have found common ground.
Is the Agenda Broader or Narrower?
In a letter to President Obama and Congressional leaders, the principal authors of the “Governing Agenda” summarized their goal as “Reducing abortions through common ground policies.” They explained, “We agree on a goal of reducing abortions in America through policies that address the circumstances that lead to abortion: preventing unintended pregnancies, supporting pregnant women and new families, and increasing support for adoption.” The method, most agree, is a good one. It advocates the use of comprehensive, age-appropriate, medically accurate sexuality education with an emphasis on abstinence as a way of reducing unintended pregnancies.
But pro-choice leaders contacted by Religion Dispatches feel not only left out of the conversation, but see in the “Governing Agenda” a product that continues to stigmatize abortion and does nothing to further the conversations that are most needed.
The notion of “abortion reduction,” has been a cornerstone of the so-called “broader agenda” of the conservative evangelicals promoted by Third Way and Faith in Public Life. But Rev. Fowler sees a certain “political expediency” at work:
Abortion reduction is not a position that recognizes the reality of many women’s lives. I mean we talk about the incarnation. And the incarnate reality, the moral reality of women’s lives is that sometimes abortion is the best moral choice.
Fowler, who has been a longtime leader in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and has served on the board of Planned Parenthood adds that, “what is missing from this document is any acknowledgment of women’s moral agency and their capacity to make honorable sacred decisions for the welfare of their families and for themselves.”
”What is missing from this document,” she continued, “is recognition of the sacredness of all life, and a moral tradition that allows us to weigh relative values, of potential life versus a lived life in its full spiritual complexity.”
”What is missing from this document is any invitation for faith leaders, both pro-choice and pro-life with whom we disagree, to talk about abortion—and other choices involving women’s reproductive health and to model that dialogue to the country.”
The idea that abortion is sometimes the best moral choice is the view of many major religious institutions representing tens of millions of American Christians, Jews, Unitarians, and others. Many of these institutions are represented in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), including major mainline Protestant denominations (such as the Episcopal Church and the United Church of Christ), the major bodies of American Judaism, and such organizations as the YWCA.
Rev. Carlton Veazey, President of RCRC and a member of RD’s advisory council, wrote recently in commemoration of the 36th anniversary of Roe: “I call on the faithful to protect the lives of women and children by fighting to ensure that reproductive health care is accessible and that abortion services are safe, legal, and available.”
“The reality,” he continued, “is that the cycle of poverty often revolves around unintended and unwanted pregnancy. A woman living in poverty is four times as likely to have an unintended pregnancy and five times as likely to have an unintended birth as her higher-income counterpart. The link between family planning and overcoming poverty is well established.”
Melanie Zurek, executive director of the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Abortion Access Project also hears the silence that surrounds abortion. While she also welcomes the possibility of expanding access to excellent sexuality education, she says that “abortion needs to be part of the conversation.” But she avers that it is also necessary to “remove the stigma against abortion that prevents that conversation from taking place.”
But the notion of “abortion reduction” as presented by Third Way, Faith in Public Life, and their evangelical allies, presumes that abortion is analogous to a dread disease, the incidence of which must be “reduced.” This recasting of the language of anti-abortion moralism into something akin to epidemiology stands in sharp contrast to the mainstream religious traditions of tens of millions of American Christians, Jews, Unitarians, and others. Within these traditions, abortion is often a moral choice, and in any case, women are fully capable of deciding when and under what circumstances to make that choice, without direction from the state or other uninvited agencies. In short, abortion reduction is a term that is imbued with the very stigma that Fowler and Zurek say is a principal obstacle to engaging in a coherent conversation, even in disagreement.
Zurek notes that the prevention strategies involving education and access to contraception would take time to work; and that fully half of all pregnancies are unintended and take place disproportionately among poor women. “There are both economic and health consequences to delays in abortion care,” she warns. “One of the consequences of barriers and delays is that the longer they wait, the more complicated and expensive a procedure it becomes.”
Regarding the “Governing Agenda” of Third Way and Faith in Public Life, however, she notes that “it is not only a matter of having the prevention work and catching up to the reality of unintended pregnancies. We know from the experience of other countries with terrific sexuality education and available contraception that there will always be a need for abortion care.”
In addition to the silence in the political arena, Zurek points to the silence in the health care system, where abortion is not integrated into the training of health care professionals “because it is so stigmatized,” she says. This same culture of stigmatization causes many patients to avoid even talking with their regular physicians about it, preferring instead “specialized settings” like Planned Parenthood.
As a result, access to abortion care is a significant problem of health care delivery in the United States. A major study by the Guttmacher Institute found that some 87% of US counties lack a single abortion provider. The study notes a long-term decline in the rate of abortion in the United States, but could not determine whether this was because of increased access to and use of contraception, or due to the lack of access to abortion providers. And yet, even of the competing plans to reform the health care system currently being debated, and of the many ideas being discussed, Zurek says: “I don’t know of any agenda that proposes to better integrate abortion into the health care system.”
And of course, since the abortion-reduction agenda is an explicitly anti-abortion tactic, albeit not one embraced by all sectors of the anti-abortion movement, it stands to reason that an increased focus on prevention and adoption would likely eclipse the need for improved access to abortion as part of a society-wide program of age-appropriate, medically-accurate sex education and access to family planning services.
Zurek is also concerned that the abortion-reduction agenda overlooks the many barriers to abortion faced, particularly, by low-income women and those from rural areas. An additional set of barriers are what she describes as politically-motivated regulations. She offers, by way of example, the laws in some states that require a physician to mention a link between breast cancer and abortion; a link, she notes, “that has been disproved on numerous occasions by science.”
The Abortion Access Project has several initiatives targeting issues of access due to the long, sometimes vast, distances between abortion providers faced by women in rural areas, as well as those issues faced by low-income women.
“Women in places such as Mississippi, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Arkansas share a troubling commonality,” AAP reports on its Web site. “Because of where they live, these women face daunting barriers to get safe abortion care if and when they need it. These least-access states have the most restrictive laws and the fewest number of abortion providers. These states also share other traits: low levels of contraceptive care, high rates of poverty, and strong anti-abortion cultures. With little help to prevent pregnancy, few financial resources to help pay for abortion care, and the threat of isolation or even harassment within her community, the health and autonomy of a woman living in one of these states is at risk.”
Pro-choice Religious Leaders find their Voice
While the abortion-reduction agenda has gained considerable currency in political circles in both parties, pro-choice religious leaders are increasingly finding their voice and are seeking to be heard.
Rev. Debra Haffner, Director of the Westport, Connecticut-based Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing, declared in a recent blog post that “[it is] false advertising to promote this report as evangelical and progressive religious leaders coming together.”
”The fact is,” she continued, “that this is a report by, in the words of U.S. News and World Report, a ‘coalition of prominent evangelical leaders.’ In that it expands their previous call for abortion reduction to include for the first time a call for comprehensive sexuality education and family planning services, it’s an important step forward.” She observes, however, in questioning the inclusiveness of the project, that four out of the five speakers on the press conference call announcing the Governing Agenda, “identified themselves as pro-life.”
Haffner maintains “that one cannot label oneself progressive without a commitment to sexual justice” and that she “would be delighted to help these two organizations bring truly progressive religious leaders to the table to discuss these issues. But until we’re invited, expect us to continue to speak out.”