Throwing Youth Potential under the Abortion Bus, Not a Good Call

18 Jul

2011 is proving to be a record year in laws proposed to restrict abortion providers’ services and abortion patients’ access to those services. The laws that have passed are atrocious enough alone, but add in the laws “only” proposed, like Sen. John Boozman’s (R-AR) federal law that would Nationalize parental consent laws to prohibit teens from crossing state lines to obtain abortion services; the mid-June Kansas Department of Health regulations threatening to make Kansas the first State without a single abortion provider; and the defunding of Planned Parenthoods around the country, and it ain’t hard to tell why this era is being dubbed as a War On Women.

As a young American, who had vaginal heterosexual sex (hellooo pregnancy risk) throughout my teens and relied on Planned Parenthood for free contraception, I can’t stop focusing on what messages these restrictions and proposals are sending to the current teens in America. Defunding contraceptive services, mandatory sonogram requirements, insurance and Medicaid restrictions, waiting periods, and other restrictive abortion care laws are offensive to all women; they undermine our rationality, independence, and our right to not bear children. But these restrictions also create systematic inequalities in birth control (including abortion) access for specific groups of women. Particularly, the young and the resource (money, car, support) poor, which, in many instances, overlap. While feminist and the prochoice community widely discuss how restricting control over reproduction is ideologically harmful and disrespectful to women,  the same big-ideological-picture on the laws’ impact on youth as a population group is less addressed.

In July we came very close to having our first ever no-provider state. Hypothetically, if the pending Boozman proposal became law at the same time there were no abortion clinics in Kansas, and teen females in KS would come have absolutely no legal, independent access to abortion. This law, along with the others proposed this year, sends a message about how we value youth’s potential and agency that has widespread and harmful implications for male and female teens, parents of these teens, schools and society alike.

We spend infinite social and financial resources on protecting young persons’ potential contribution to society. Our fascination with the American dream, innovation, individualism each stem from our deep appreciation of human potential. We value youth so much that our legal system and social structures operate on many levels to protect against the “wasting” of youth potential (in car accidents, by drinking, by skipping school, going to war, by suffering parental neglect etc.). Age-based laws which mitigate harmful outcomes are symbols of us positively valuing youth; when the measures are protective they point out that we respect youths’ potential and life force. Conversely, age-based laws which are controlling, but not protective, are degrading: They iterate that we both do not value youths potential (as we are willing to put blatantly put it in harm’s way) and that we do not trust youth to take on the responsibility of their potential.

By disallowing abortion as a choice for youth we are saying we want adults to define youths’ potential for them, and sends a very dangerous message: That youth has no control over their own potential. Why is this dangerous? Because we rely on the value of potential to motivate youth to invest in themselves—if adults (law makers etc.) degrade and define the value of youth’s potential, we in turn encourage youth to forgo ownership over their future. Why would youth want to invest in themselves and their dreams if they can not define what that their dreams are and if those dreams can be easily taken away? If we say that women (and men) are not able to choose alternative life paths to early parenthood, we are taking away our faith in their potential and, at the same time, our desire for them to be interested in planning and managing their life options.

I am not saying that becoming a teen or young parent inherently means one’s potential will be lost; not at all. I am, however, saying that when we ask teens to respect their potential by investing in it (staying in school etc) in one hand, and on the other hand say they do not trust them to manage and preserve their own potential, we end up with a byproduct that encourages a de-investment in self. Doing so for our young men and women will not result in an improved society despite claims of the opposite by Boozman and the like.

Though many of the anti-abortion access laws proposed are not realities yet, the increased proposal of the laws are signally we are at the verge of losing faith in rational autonomy and human dignity of women and youth. And, in turn, we are telling youth nationwide to lose faith in themselves. In limiting abortion service access in this manner, state legislatures like that in Kansas and federal politicians like Boozman are telling youth that they are not able to define and work towards their own definitions of “fulfilling potential”. These messages are degrading and harmful to our current and future society. If we value youth for what they will and do contribute to society, we must allow and trust them to define their potential and choose what their contribution will be.

One Response to “Throwing Youth Potential under the Abortion Bus, Not a Good Call”

  1. Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall July 19, 2011 at 12:42 am #

    Very elegant and articulate summation of an extremely dire situation. Studies by the Center for Disease Control shows that comprehensive sex education (which includes information about contraception) causes girls to delay the age they start having sex. One ugly statistic that isn’t quoted nearly enough is that most teen pregnancy results from encounters between young teens and older men. Apparently arming girls with a little basic reproductive information is useful in keeping them from being manipulated in this way.

    As a child and adolescent psychiatrist, I’ve done my small part to raise adolescent awareness about pregnancy and contraception with a young adult novel THE BATTLE FOR TOMORROW: A FABLE (www.stuartbramhall.com). A book about youth activism, it also deals frankly with teen sexuality, contraception and abortion.

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