Friday, June 15, 2007

Real Common Ground

About twenty years ago, I had the privilege of being the guest of the Swedish government to learn more about Sweden's approach to sexuality issues. On one of the days, the small group of us visited a school, watched a sex education class, and asked the teenagers questions.

In Sweden, like most of Scandanavia and the rest of Europe, teenagers begin having sexual intercourse about the same time as U.S. teenagers but have a fraction of the pregnancies, births, and abortions than our teens do. They have sex education for the primary grades on up and easy access to contraception. I asked the group, "Can you imagine a circumstance where you might not use birth control?"

There was silence.

I thought perhaps they didn't understand. I explained that in the United States, many teenagers didn't use birth control.

They looked puzzled. Finally one said, "But, that would be silly unless you wanted to get pregnant. It would be like driving through a red light. Why would your teenagers do that?"

I've thought about them this week as I have continued to be bothered by Mrs. Clinton's public statement last week "Yes, Yes" she would agree to a policy goal of "reducing the decisions for abortion to zero". She then went on to chide both sides because they had not been willing to seek common ground.

But, Mrs. Clinton knows better than that. The piece of legislation she is sponsoring, Prevention First, is all about that common ground. And that common ground is about preventing abortions by preventing unintended pregnancies in the first place through comprehensive sexuality education and accessible contraceptive services. As we say in our Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Abortion as a Moral Decision, it is precisely because life is so precious, that it should never be created carelessly.

The fact is that abortion must be safe, legal, rare, and accessible (a word that I have talked with Mrs. Clinton and her staff about several times but have failed to get them to adopt.) We must NOT make abortion rarer by making it harder to get. Because contraceptives fail (over half of women who have an abortion had used a contraceptive method the month they got pregnant), because of compromising fetal health issues that don't emerge until well along in the pregnancy and life threatening complications of pregnancy, there will always be some abortions.

But surely we can learn the lessons of other developed countries: provide lifespan sexuality education, provide easily accessible contraceptive services, provide adequate support for pregnant women and their children and abortion rates come down. The abortion rate in Belgium is 7 per 1000 women of childbearing age; in the U.S., it's 21. (But in Peru where abortion is illegal, it's 56.)

And raise our teenagers to become adults who think that having sex without using contraception is silly.


Anonymous said...

Can't really argue against frightening common sense - nice one!

Mike said...

"(over half of women who have an abortion had used a contraceptive method the month they got pregnant)"

This is a little misleading. Did they use contraception regularly and correctly? Survey says... no. The data I have seen varies, but at most about 16% of women getting abortions claim to have used contraception properly and consistently and gotten pregnant anyway (and I have seen as little as 5%). Less than 1 percent were raped.

So why are so many people behaving so irresponsibly? Is more sex education really going to help? Who exactly is not receiving the message that sex without birth control leads to pregnancy? And who can't get contraception?

You think abortions should be legal. You also advocate a liberal approach to issues surrounding sexuality and abortion. How is this "common ground," and not just advocacy for your views? Not that it's wrong to advocate for your views, but why pretend like it's something else?

Anonymous said...

How many teenagers and young adults in the US KNOW about the different varieties of contraceptives as well as how to use them? Growing up in Baltimore city, its frightenly scary the "methods" that some people employ to avoid pregnancies. It is still believed that virgins cannot get pregnant the first time, or she is on her period, or if the girl is on top. Or they have the misfortune of being subjected to abstinence only education where full-out lies are told to impressionable teenagers, calling all forms of birth control "murder of god's children" or claiming that condoms only work 65% of the time, so when these teenagers do have premarital sex, and the vast majority will, they are much more likely to forget the birth control, and are that much more likely to contract an STI/AIDS or get an unwanted pregnancy.

So yesm, the US has a HUGE problem with sexual education. The fact of the matter is, our youth are NOT being taught anything useful about contraceptives and eventual those teenagers will grow into adults with the same lack of information on birth control.

Why are so many people behaving irresponsibly? Because when it comes to sex, this country breeds ignorance at a young age and they cultivate it throughout their entire lives.

Sexual education will definitely help. Sexual education where correct and non-bias, truthful and free education is given, without religious influence and outright lies.

Anonymous said...

What people are forgetting is that the ENTIRE educational system in the U.S. is leaving our students ignorant.

By comparison with other countries our young people perform poorly at math, science, geography and even our own history. Sex education is just one of the problems with ous schools