Last year, public health professionals were disheartened by the news that teenage birth rates were up, reversing a 14-year long trend of decline. While it is still premature to see if a real downward trend is emerging, the statistics signal a sense of alarm in the United States. Nationally, the birthrate among 15-19 year olds rose 1.4 percent from 2006 to 2007. Current data shows that birthrates rose from 41.9 births per 1,000 to 42.5 in the same age group. We blogged about teen birthrates earlier this year here. The United States’ teenage birth rate is far higher than that of any other industrialized nation.
Some experts suggest that the rise in birthrates results from a growing complacency about AIDS and teen pregnancy. Others find fault with sex education programs, in particular with abstinence only sex-education programs. (We previously blogged about comprehensive sex education programs here.)
Another possibility may be that media frenzies around pregnant celebrities, both teen and adult, may be a factor in the rising teen birth rate. When entertainment magazines breathlessly announce celebrities’ pregnancies and female stars are constantly subjected to “baby bump watch,” does that have an impact on teenagers’ ideas about pregnancy? Does it make light of how difficult being a teenage mother actually is, while ignoring the fact that the women and girls featured in the glossies have far more money and resources than the average American woman? These may be worthwhile factors to research, especially if the teen pregnancy rate continues to rise.
A story via the National Partnership for Women and Families reveals how the economic downturn is affecting women’s decisions about sex and family planning. Reports show that women and men are feeling great pressure and doubt when faced with decisions regarding pregnancy, resulting in women choosing abortion and men requesting vasectomies. The National Network of Abortion Funds reports that their national helpline has experienced a quadrupling of phone calls compared to one year ago from women in desperate situations. Planned Parenthood reports an increase in the number of women needing assistance in paying for birth control because of the economy’s effect on their financial situation. The only bright light in this situation comes from some experts’ predictions that the government may consider increasing public funding for contraception as a result of the economic downturn.
Good news for reproductive rights! On Monday, a federal judge ruled that the Food and Drug Administration must make the emergency contraceptive Plan B available without a prescription to anyone aged 17 and older. Currently, the medication is only available over the counter to customers 18 years and older. Individuals under 18 can obtain Plan B with a prescription.
Judge Korman, who issued the ruling, stated his belief that the FDA had “improperly bowed” to political pressure from the Bush Administration when it set 18 as the age limit. Because Plan B must be taken within 72 hours of intercourse, it is exceedingly important that it be quickly available over the counter. Lowering age restrictions is supported by many health organizations, including the World Health Organization and the American Medical Association. We applaud Judge Korman’s decision in support of women’s reproductive rights and health.
The United States will join 66 other nations around the world who have signed the United Nations’ Declaration on Gay Rights. This declaration condemns human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It calls for a “decriminalization of homosexuality…to request a universal abolition of the so-called ‘crime of homosexuality,’ of all ‘sodomy laws,’ and laws against so-called ‘unnatural acts’ in all the countries where they still exist.” The Bush Administration opposed the U.S. signing the declaration in 2008. We are encouraged by this act in favor of international human rights by the Obama administration.
Via Feminist Majority
Filed under Equality, LGBT
Last week, we blogged about Dawn Johnsen’s nomination to head the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice and how anti-choice activists were trying to stall the committee vote that would send her nomination to be voted upon by the full Senate. We’re happy to report that the Senate Judiciary Committee approved her nomination by 12-11 (Senator Specter abstained from the committee vote). Now, her confirmation will be voted upon by the entire Senate, although that vote hasn’t been scheduled yet. It’s critical that your senators know that you support President Obama’s nomination of a vocal pro-choice advocate to head this office, so please contact them today.
Additionally, Elena Kagan was confirmed last week as the U.S. Solicitor General, making her the first woman in that position. Ms. Kagan previously served as the dean of Harvard Law School and, in her role as solicitor general, will represent the federal government before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Washington Post recently published a telling article about the status of women in politics in the United States today. The article opens with the details of a conference hosted by the White House Project at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia. The conference provides training and advice for women considering entering into politics. The article notes that the idea of women in politics is becoming somewhat more of a reality after the recent election involving Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin, yet women are still largely unrepresented in American politics: the United States ranks 69th in the world in the proportion of women in the lower house of their legislature.
The article highlighted major findings of a report conducted last year that pointed to some major reasons for the continued low level of women’s participation in government. For one, women are not being recruited into politics at the same level as men. In addition, women are more concerned about losing their privacy than men. But the number one barrier to leadership for women is a lack of self-confidence in their own skills and competencies. In light of these findings, many researchers and scholars feel that the best way to improve this situation is to instill leadership into girls at a young age, encouraging them to think about the possibility of a career in politics in school.
To read more about this study and others, and also to get a glimpse into the personal stories of various women considering a life in politics, read the full Washington Post article. Also, read previous blogs about women making strides in politics over the last year here, here, and here.
A report from the Pentagon for 2008 showed that sexual assault reports rose over 25% last year. While this rise seems shocking, Defense Department officials state that the increase is likely due to a growth in victim reports and not in sexual assaults themselves. The increase shows that the Defense Department’s policy of encouraging victims to come forward with instances of sexual assault is working and helping to remove some of the stigma attached to reporting sexual assault in the military.
However, of the 2,763 investigations last year on cases of sexual assault, only 832 resulted in punishments for the perpetrators. We hope that the increase in reports marks a new level of awareness and concern for instances of sexual assault in the military, and the Defense Department continues to encourage victims to come forward.