On Choice and Life

Mousumi Banikya-Leaseburg

Mousumi Banikya-Leaseburg

How did the words “life” and “choice” come to represent such polar opposites? Shouldn’t “life” or a “free life” be synonymous with the ability to make a “choice”? Despite being such a die-hard proponent of women’s rights, these terms have often confused me, so much so that when I am asked which camp I belong to, I have to pause and think for a moment before I passionately declare, “pro-choice!” However, I also see myself as “pro-life” of every woman whose life is changed forever by her ability to choose whether she wants to give birth or not.  Hence, my confusion. So, this whole politicized debate about the terminology with which we refer to the fight over abortion rights is not something I entirely disagree with, albeit for different reasons. One thing I am sure about is that whatever term we choose to use, it should not distract us from what is really important, and that is, regardless of what we call this fight, it is a fight nonetheless, and every day, scores of women in the United States are faced with this life-changing decision. Although Roe v. Wade legalized abortion 40 years ago, women in the United States are still disadvantaged when it comes to exercising their right to choose.

The Guttmacher Institute came out with an interesting policy brief,“Abortion Policy in the Absence of Roe, highlighting what abortion laws would look like in states in the event that Roe were to be overturned. The report is alarming. Twenty states currently possess laws that could be used to restrict the legal status of abortion. Of these states, four have laws that automatically ban abortion if Roe were to be overturned; 13 states would retain their unenforced, pre-Roe abortion bans; and 7 have laws that express their intent to restrict the right to legal abortion to the maximum extent permitted by the U.S. Supreme Court in the absence of Roe. Only seven states—California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, and Washington—have laws that protect the right to choose abortion prior to viability or when necessary to protect the life or health of the woman. Come what may, we cannot and must not let this overturn happen.

bfcd-2013-100pxBut how about the current state of affairs? Today and in this moment, are women truly free to choose in the United States? Although by the age of 45, about half of American women will have an unintended pregnancy, 87% of counties lack an abortion provider and 35% of women live in those counties requiring some women seeking an abortion to have to travel 50 miles or more to obtain an abortion. In 2012 alone, 43 abortion restrictions were enacted in 19 states. Insurance bans, biased counseling, parental consent requirements, waiting periods, and unnecessary ultrasounds are all barriers to women exercising their right to choose (Guttmacher Institute, 2012).

I work with an organization that upholds the right to choose for all adolescents. Healthy Teen Network envisions a national community where all adolescents and young adults, including teen parents, are supported and empowered to lead healthy sexual, reproductive, and family lives. We believe both male and female adolescents and young adults, including teen parents, given appropriate, accurate, and evidence-based comprehensive education, are capable of and responsible for making informed decisions about sexuality, pregnancy, and parenting. Furthermore, all adolescents and young adults, including teen parents, deserve access to contraceptive services, and if pregnant, to full options counseling and services. By supporting full options counseling, Healthy Teen Network paves the way for adolescents and young adults to exercise their right to choose and thereby take charge of their lives.

Personally, I am pro-liberty, pro-equality, and pro-justice. I believe that to give or not to give birth should be a woman’s personal, private decision. Uphold Roe, repeal Hyde, remove barriers and let us be free!

Mousumi Banikya-Leaseburg, MD, MPH, CPH is a Program Manager at Healthy Teen Network.

Healthy People 2020 & Adolescent Health

Christine Runion

Christine Runion

For the past 30 years, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has been publishing a framework for public health in attempt to improve our nation’s health. As the field progresses, we have all become aware that the key to teen pregnancy and HIV prevention encompasses more than just sexual education: it includes bullying prevention, access to health care, positive relationship reinforcement, and more… it includes all aspects of healthy teens!

And that’s why we’re so excited that, for the first time ever, the Healthy People Initiative, Healthy People 2020 (HP2020), released a little more than a year ago, includes the topic Adolescent Health. HHS highlights adolescent issues such as sexually transmitted infections (including HIV) and teen and unplanned pregnancies.

Is anyone else thinking “RAISE THE ROOF?” or “Totally awesome?” ….Wait, what are kids saying these days?

No matter what exclamatory phrase you choose, I think we can all agree that it’s about time! Adolescents (ages 10-19) and young adults (ages 20-24) make up a whopping 21 percent of the population. That’s one in five people! And we all know that habits and lifestyle choices made in our brain-shaping and sometimes awkward, confusing, and crazy youth can shape us for life. So let’s support teens to make them good ones.

And how can we ensure that these lifestyle choices are beneficial to the teens making them? By getting involved with HP2020, of course! Whether you are in the field, in the classroom, looking to make an impact in your community, or even within your own family, there are many ways in which you can incorporate the HHS adolescent health objectives:

  • Use the objectives to see where your population stands in relation to the nation.
  • Use the objectives to help inform your organization’s strategic plan.
  • Use the objectives to help inform resource allocation within your organization.
  • Develop collaborative partnerships across the six topic areas to maximize your access to funding and your impact on your population.
  • Use the objectives to help determine if your organization’s activities, ranging from programming to education to advocacy, are meeting all of your population’s needs.

Many organizations used HP2010’s Critical Health Objectives (CHOs) to inform their work and boast remarkable results:

“We are a multi-issue organization and the CHOs really validated a holistic approach to adolescent health.” – The California Adolescent Health Collaborative

“We are using the CHOs to break down barriers between these segregated adolescent health issues. It is helpful that there is a national initiative like HP2010 and the CHOs that also take this approach.” – Alabama Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy

To read more about success stories related to HP2010, check out Healthy Teen Network’s Healthy People 2020 and Adolescent Health: A Primer.

How to Get/Stay Involved

Organizations (and individuals) can use the same tactics for getting involved with HP2020 as others did for HP2010. The HHS publishes tools and resources useful for those wishing to utilize the HHS’s objectives—and keep adolescent health on the list of topics for decades to come!

Visit the Healthy People Initiative website for updates and more information.

A full list of the objectives for Adolescents is available online.

To get more ideas on how to implement these objectives in your organization, click here.

You can access the resource Improving the Health of Adolescents and Young Adults, another comprehensive CDC resource for adolescent health.

Christine Runion is a Marketing and Communications Associate at Healthy Teen Network.

Hanging Over the Fiscal Cliff

Bob Reeg

Bob Reeg

The 113th Congress convened on January 3, 2013, with much of the nation’s business being carried over from the 112th Congress. Expect a similar robust debate on the big policy issues facing the country as took place in 2012, given that the composition of the 113th Congress has not altered substantially from its predecessor, and that firm ideological differences which polarize the American populace have not diminished.

The federal budget deficit and national debt will continue to be front and center in the new Congress, as they should be given the scope of the imbalance between federal spending and revenue collection. Despite spin from policymakers and the press that President Obama and the 112th Congress stopped the nation from “going over the ‘fiscal cliff’” (the combination of tax increases and spending cuts that was set to take place January 1, 2013), a more accurate metaphor is that the nation’s policymakers left the nation “hanging over the fiscal cliff.”

The budget agreement reached in the closing days of the 112th Congress addressed a limited package of taxation matters. It was not a wholesale reform of the national tax structure—just one-half of the cliff equation. And for many progressives, it was a disappointing resolution. The agreement raises income tax rates only on a higher income group than originally proposed by the President during his re-election campaign, thereby foregoing a sizeable amount of new revenue from upper income Americans that could have been applied toward important national investments in people and communities.

Left unresolved in the agreement was the other half of the cliff: sequestration (the scheduled across the board spending cuts in federal programs to which funds are appropriated annually, known as “discretionary” programs.) Congress and the President delayed sequestration only until March 2013, a two-month reprieve. Looming sequestration is the first in a series of threats to the federal health and human development programs upon which the youth and families supported by Healthy Teen Network members depend.

Also carried over from the 112th Congress is a final resolution of the annual appropriations for Fiscal Year 2013 (the fiscal year in which the federal government is currently operating). The prior Congress extended FY 2013 appropriations at the FY 2012 levels only through March 2013, setting up the prospect of a government shutdown by spring, or barring that, certainly a good deal of mischief that could lead to spending reductions on the programs upon which Healthy Teen Network members depend in order to serve their target populations.

Add to the mischief potential: Congress must also debate a raise to the debt ceiling, which limits the nation’s borrowing authority. In 2011, Members of Congress who sought a limited federal government used the debt ceiling to force passage of the Budget Control Act, which put into motion the very fiscal cliff!

And let’s not forget entitlement reform–the ever-present drive to re-design and extend (curb?) the life of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

This combination of perils to health and human development services on which the youth and families supported and represented by Healthy Teen Network are unprecedented in modern times. Healthy Teen Network will continue to track relevant Congressional activities, notify states of actions they can take, and work in partnership with the field to advocate for youth and young families. We will strive to protect and preserve the array of federal health and human development programs on which our nation’s youth depend for securing total health and quality of life.

Bob Reeg is the Senior Policy Analyst at Healthy Teen Network.

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