Because of a legislative onslaught of unconstitutional laws that have left almost 90% of Americans living in counties without abortion providers, the media and activism focus on issues of choice and reproductive rights typically centers around abortion care. Reproductive justice advocates work tirelessly to break through that tunnel vision, broadening the narrative to remind us that supporting bodily autonomy includes more than helping people end unwanted pregnancies; it also includes helping those who choose to become parents.
Teen pregnancy and parenthood come with so much stigma you likely already have a mental image of the stereotypical teen mom. It’s not that you’re insensitive; it's years of media, horror stories in health class meant to scare kids into not having sex, and bad TV all having done their respective jobs on your subconscious.
You probably don’t even realize that there are laws to protect pregnant teens as those typically accidental pregnancies aren’t given much priority in public spaces or political platforms. It turns out, however, that pregnant teens are full, autonomous humans — whose wombs and lives, according to the Republican Party Platform, must be regulated at every possible opportunity. By all means, they must carry to term — and then be sent adrift with no societal support and as much scolding as possible.
Title IX laws actually bolster Constitutional protections and bodily autonomy guarantees, but most high school students aren’t aware of their rights, can’t vote for laws that protect them, and are heavily influenced by the messaging in their communities.
As #NoTeenShame co-founder Gloria Malone writes this week at RH Reality Check, pregnant teens often initially buy into the doomed depiction of young families in the media and on shows like "16 and Pregnant.”
Malone candidly describes her experience this way:
"When I became pregnant at 15, the adults in my life believed my life was over. In addition to explicitly stating this to me, they began to treat me differently and even stopped helping me look into colleges because they believed I would not finish high school...If my family and high school guidance counselor had responded to my decision to carry my pregnancy to term and parent my child in a more positive way from the get-go, with tips on planning for my future and for my daughter’s future, I may have experienced a more healthy and positive pregnancy. And so I ask, how are others preparing teens to live the life they want for themselves and their families? We can and must do so much better.”
Healthy Teen Network and the National Women’s Law Center are co-leading an effort which aims to take that advice and do better in practical and useful ways. The Pregnant and Parenting Students Access to Education Act — sponsored in this legislative session by Senator Udall of New Mexico and Representative Polis of Colorado — would solidify the rights of teen parents and establish policies that provide concrete help.
Teen parents should have the flexibility to finish school, pursue careers and have healthy families. Let your representatives know — during election season and beyond — that an issue affecting nearly 3 in 10 girls matters to you and should matter to them. Sign the letter at HealthyTeenNetwork.org under the Public Policy tab and help make the legislation a priority after next month’s election. Also, be sure to follow #NoTeenShame for other ways to get involved with ending stigma and building support for families.
Sign to support the The Pregnant and Parenting Students Access to Education Act legislation backed by the National Women’s Law Center and Healthy Teen Network
Submit your story to #NoTeenShame
"Where’s the ’16, Parenting, and OK’ Reality Show?” by Gloria Malone at RH Reality Check
Hear the segment in context:
Episode #870 "Don't police me, bro! (Feminism)"
Written by BOTL social media/activism director Katie Klabusich