Reducing the Incidence of Abortion
Betsy Cairo, PhD, HCLD, CSE
When we speak of reproductive health education we focus on the tangible, the things that we hear and see in the news, on the internet and even in the lyrics of songs. These things we speak of are sex, pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and broken relationships. We even hear about physical violence between partners. What we don’t hear about, what we never really focus on is the incidence of abortion.
Anti-choice advocates take the stance that to reduce the abortion rate one must not terminate an unintended and or unwanted pregnancy. Take for instance Sharon Angle, the Republican Senate candidate that was quoted on The Huffington Post as saying that a young girl raped by her father should know that “two wrongs don’t make a right.” Much good can come from a horrific situation like that, Angle added. Lemons can be made into lemonade.
Not sure how a young girl raped by her father who subsequently gets pregnant is “wrong” in terminating the pregnancy. In fact, terminating the pregnancy in this situation only takes out the added physical burden. The emotional burden will take a long time to heal and I am not talking about the emotional burden of terminating a pregnancy. I am talking about the emotional burden of being raped by her father. Nowhere in this interview does Sharon Angle speak of reducing the abortion rate by reducing the pregnancy rate. It is pretty common that the people who oppose comprehensive reproductive health education also oppose birth control and abortion. Too bad they can’t see that it doesn’t cut both ways.
To reduce the abortion rate we must reduce the unintended and or unwanted pregnancy rate. Most people believe that the abortion rate of an unintended pregnancy is about 50% or higher. In fact it is much lower than that. Most pregnancies that were unplanned go to term, additionally, a good percentage of pregnancies result in miscarriage leading to the actual number of aborted pregnancies being rather low. But this is still not good enough.
So what is the problem? The problem is the point of focus. If we keep focusing on the incidence of teenage pregnancy we are treating the symptom and one of the treatments of the symptom (unplanned pregnancy) can be elective termination. To me it is analogous to a recurring headache. You take a pain reliever and the head ache goes away but it will eventually return. You are simply treating the symptom. What should probably happen is for you to have a work up to make sure there isn’t something fundamentally wrong with your system. Essentially, to find the root of the cause of the headaches. In doing this, in finding the root of the cause of the problem you can then treat the problem and not the symptom.
For years we have been treating the symptom. The symptom in this case is unplanned pregnancies. It is time to treat the problem but do we even know what the problem is? As a person in education I of course have the bias that the problem is lack of information. While this is partially true it is not the entire picture. The entire picture not only consists of more accurate information for our youth but it of course has to be followed by access to care, hurdling religious and cultural influence and asking for accountability from our younger generation.
Accountability, that is an interesting concept. In the generational attitude of “so what?” we have no accountability for the actions or the consequences. Cause and effect is completely lost. This is evidenced by the celebration of teen pregnancy. The cheerleader that gets pregnant as a freshman and stays on the cheer squad throughout high school only to parade her 3 year old out as a senior at every game in a matching outfit. Isn’t that cute? Wouldn’t every girl want to have that attention? The best part is that after the game the 3 year old goes home with grandma and grandpa while the cheerleader goes out with her friends. No accountability.
We want to reduce the teen pregnancy rate. We have organizations like The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy , Planned Parenthood, Advocates for Youth and SIECUS who work tirelessly to reach our youth to change these numbers. But we still need more. We need to figure out why what we are doing isn’t working.
We need to stop treating the symptom.
10 things a sexuality educator should be able to answer.
When teaching this spring at Front Range Community College (Boulder Campus) I had a brainstorm session with my class. The assignment was to break into groups and make a list of 10 questions a sex educator should be able to answer. Because it was difficult to narrow it down to just 10 questions and because the class had some amazing points of reference I am going to list the high points of what they felt a sex educator should know and know well.
1. How to correctly put on a condom.
2. What is the difference between sex and gender?
3. All aspects of all birth control. Side effects, how they work, where to get them.
4. Definitely should know anatomy and physiology of male and female.
5. All sexually transmitted infections and prevention.
6. Theories of sexuality.
7. Behavior vs. attitude.
8. All types of relationships, i.e Sternberg’s triangle theory of love.
9. Sexual abuse, harassment, assault etc..
10. SEXUAL DIVERSITY! (this was emphasized)
11. What is sex?
12. Sexual development throughout a life time for both male and female.
13. The stages of puberty. What is happening physically and emotionally?
They were then asked what they thought would be important criteria for a teacher to be able to teach this topic and came up with these:
1. Knowledge-have knowledge , training, education and DESIRE to teach in this area.
2. Comfort level-have the ability to teach this without being uncomfortable.
3. Bridge book with real life.
4. Relate to the age you are speaking to. Use “their” language. Don’t talk up or down to your class. Use correct terminology.
5. Make sure you help your class ask the right questions. Sometimes students don’t know enough to ask a question. Encourage them to think and ask.
6. They don’t think gender segregation is a good idea when teaching. Men or women can teach the class or men and women can team teach.
So after we kicked this around I explained to them what I felt the ideal class in high school would be. It would be a semester long. It would be team taught by two different disciplines. For instance, all the science information could be taught by the science teacher and all the psychology information could be taught by the psychology teacher. They could team teach it. The students loved this idea.
So the question is-are there any schools out there willing to take a chance and set the bar high for trying this out?
Betsy Cairo, PhD, HCLD, CSE