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Out of control
Bush's abstinence-only policies do more harm than good

By Ellen Snortland

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week reported the nation's teenage birth rate has risen for the first time since 1991. As if I needed one more reason to despise Bush and his asinine administration. Oh, their abstinence only policy is brilliant; brilliant in its utter absurdity and stupidity. It would be laughable if lives weren't involved. No issue in modern history is as important as birth control. Nothing illustrates the notion of thinking globally and acting locally as much as controlling one's own reproductive life.

At the global level, population control is one of those leverage issues that interfaces with women's empowerment, environmental degradation, death by starvation, poverty eradication and disease control. The list of development issues alone could fill a page. Locally, having a family is the most important decision a person can make. After all, nothing is more local than one's own body and family.

Yes, dear readers, three percent more teenage girls in the 15 to 19 age bracket got pregnant in 2006 than in 1991. And despite study after study that abstinence only policies don't work, the federal government spends $176 million annually to encourage teens to abstain from sex.

I have an idea that would be far more effective which I call "Abstain from Pregnancy." The Snortland program would consist of creating a real-life course of study by taking hormonally raging teens - girls and boys - on a field trip to witness a live human birth. There's nothing as miraculous, breathtaking or birth control-inducing as seeing a baby come into the world. In my abstinence program, the students could see for themselves what was really at the end of the tunnel of unprotected sex.

As a teen, I was sexually active, and I can remember vividly how my hormones impacted my entire body. I was deaf and horny. Who knew that my ears would be so stopped up by estrogen? I had no ears for abstinence. That was the late 1960s and early '70s. Fast-forward to now. Apparently teenagers haven't changed in 40 years. Administrations change; young people and hormones do not.

This administration has been a complete reproductive disaster at all levels, domestically and internationally. As one of his first executive actions, Bush withheld the relatively paltry sum of $34 million for family planning programs at overseas reproductive clinics in favor of tyrannical anti-abortion and pro-abstinence policies. The countless women and girls who died from botched abortions will be a part of his shameful legacy. (Visit for more on how to help repair the human and financial damage Bush has caused.)

I spoke with Sheri Bonner, CEO of Pasadena Planned Parenthood, who said "There has been such a decrease in health education classes in the past 10 years largely due to the so-called No Child Left Behind policy. Our students should be learning about things that have the potential to not only prevent unintended pregnancies but are potentially life-saving skills too." (Visit for local Planned Parenthood services.)

Planned Parenthood has provided a much needed safety net for young people who need guidance and services. We are so fortunate that the mother of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, created a vision of affordable and accessible family planning clinics that often serve as the only health care some people can get, whether here or abroad.

On the global level, I have had an opportunity to attend meetings in New York of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women during this Bush regime. I have seen this administration's delegates: Stepford-type women who hailed from so-called faith-based organizations, including Mormons and the Phyllis Schlafly spin-offs from the conservative group Concerned Women for America. I've experienced the humiliation of having to answer questions from delegates from other countries who ponder why a country as great as the United States would vote with Iran, Sudan and Somalia on matters having to do with women. Indeed.

Allow me to recommend a macro view of the politics behind reproductive rights. Ellen Chesler's excellent biography, "Woman of Valor: Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement," should be required reading in high schools. "Woman of Valor" is a tour through Sanger's world and the then radical notion that women should control their own reproduction. While Karl Marx focused on the means of production, Sanger tapped the roots of reproduction saying, "War, famine, poverty and oppression of the workers will continue while woman makes life cheap. They will cease only when she limits her reproductivity and human life is no longer a thing to be wasted." Sanger understood how a patriarchy benefits from cannon fodder. It's not an accident that poor people pay the highest price of war with the lives of their sons and, more recently, daughters.

Abstinence only? Let's make sure we all abstain from regressive and dangerous politicians and policies in this next election cycle.

Pasadena Weekly: 12/13/08

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