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NYC Teen Pregnancy Campaign Brings Shaming to Bus Shelters and Cell Phones

March 5, 2013

In my column at RH Reality Check this morning I wrote about a new NYC Human Resources Administration teen pregnancy prevention campaign that takes shaming to a whole new level. From the article:

The New York Human Resources Administration (HRA) launched a new ad campaign this week that takes the use of shame tactics to prevent teen pregnancy to a whole new level. The ads feature images of young children alongside messages to their would-be teen parents. It’s hard to describe the ads as anything but horrifying and yet another link in the chain of shame-based teen pregnancy prevention efforts.

It might be hard to believe, but there’s a component to the campaign that’s even worse than the ads. At the bottom of each ad is a message: “Text ‘NOTNOW’ to 877877 for the real cost of teen pregnancy.” I followed these instructions, and what resulted was a really screwy game of “choose your own adventure” via text message.

The ads and the text message “game” are really terrible, provide no actual information about how to prevent pregnancy, instead reinforcing the stigma and social isolation faced by teen parents. 

Want to tell the agency what you think about the campaign? You can email the Commissioner of HRA here and also tweet at HRA here.

Read the full article here.

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On ageism and parenting: Why you are never the right age to be a mother

December 20, 2012

I weighed in on recent conversations regarding age and parenting over at RH Reality Check. While young people face way more stigma for parenting than those in the “older parents” category do–the way to help both those groups succeed is surprisingly similar.

The commonality between the conversation about teen parents and the conversation about older parents is that the solutions which could address the challenges that result are not so different. If we as a society created systems that supported families to a greater extent, taking the pressure off of individuals to provide for their own across the lifespan, we might find ourselves with improved outcomes for kids regardless of their parents age. Rather than trying to convince people, especially women, to give birth in the socially-acceptable and medically-sanctioned 15-year window between college and age 35, why not change the way our society support families, so that whenever the moment for parenting arises, people have the support they need to do it successfully?

Read the whole thing here.


How do we know if the drop in teen pregnancy is good news?

October 30, 2012

In my latest column for RH Reality Check I talk about the recent news from the CDC that the teen pregnancy rate in the US continues its decline to historic lows across all racial and ethnic groups.

Changes in teen pregnancy rates are always greeted with much media attention, and the narrative tends to be consistent: teen pregnancy and parenting is bad and should be prevented.

I’ve written before about why this is the seductive narrative underneath teen pregnancy prevention: stop kids from having kids, and improve high school drop out rates, poverty, etc. But of course when you dig more you learn that it’s not so clear that teen pregnancy is the cause of these outcomes. It may just be correlated because many teen parents were already at a higher risk for poverty, dropping out of high school, etc.

All of this to say that a drop in teen pregnancy does not necessary mean a drop in the negative outcomes generally associated with teen pregnancy. Some of those teens who would have been parents who are no longer becoming parents (likely because of better access to birth control) might still end up living in poverty, lack access to decent education, face health challenges.

We can’t celebrate a drop in the teen pregnancy rate unless it’s accompanied by statistics showing that young people are doing better overall–particularly those more likely to become teen parents. Perhaps we could celebrate if it came alongside news that low-income parents, parents of color, immigrant parents were all experiencing improved socioeconomic conditions, better education for their kids, easier routes toward income security.

Unfortunately the larger economic forecast doesn’t demonstrate any of these things. Instead, we see the gap between rich and poor widening. We see greater difficulty with job security, increased homelessness, mounting health challenges.

People love to celebrate or fear monger about how many teens are parenting but it’s just a distraction from the real questions for our society to grapple with: how to make sure all young people have access to the tools and services they need to guarantee a successful future.

And on that question I’m not celebrating yet.

Read the whole column here.


Call for research participants: Teen moms in Chicago area

October 23, 2012

Research being conducted by a fabulous radical doula in Chicago, focusing on the experiences of teen moms with pregnancy and childbirth. Details:

My name is Kristen Ethier; I am a graduate student in the Department of Sociology at DePaul University, and I am currently working on my final MA research project. My research is on teen mothers’ experiences of pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum. I am looking for participants to conduct face to face interview who are teen mothers ages 16-21 who both gave birth within the past two years and are currently living in the Chicagoland area to talk about their pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum experiences.

I am also interested in their ideas and opinions on how these experiences can be improved for teen mothers. The interview will take about an hour in the participant’s home or a public place of their choice (i.e. school, a coffee shop, or a library). Participation in this study will be confidential, meaning their identity will be protected during and after the interview. If you are a young/teen mother or know any teen mothers who might fit the requirements, please forward this information on to anyone you think might be interested. If you are interested in participating, please contact me at 312-259-0434 or kristenlethier@gmail.com. Thank you for your consideration!


“Model Minority” myths and maternal health

July 5, 2012

A belated post about my column last week for RH Reality Check, in response to the Pew Foundation report about the “rise of Asian Americans.”

Last week’s report from the Pew Research Center, The Rise of Asian Americans, has stirred up much controversy. Many advocates in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (API) community are arguing that the findings further a damaging idea about Asian Americans — the “model minority” myth. Advocates have said that these myths, which include the idea that Asian Americans are wealthier, more educated, and happier than other groups (all purported in the Pew report) are damaging because they hide the real challenges that exist for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, in particular for certain national and ethnic minorities that fall under the API umbrella.

One place this “model minority” concept can have negative implications is in discussions of health disparities. Whether due to population size or misconceptions about the health of Asian Americans, we do not often hear about the specific health disparities facing the API community. In the discussions about race and health, people of color are often grouped together, and disparities are talked about in terms of the gap between white people and people of color (Asian Americans included). These simplifications ignore the differences between racial groups, and even within nationalities and ethnicities within those racial subsets. Because of the Pew report, and as part of my focus on race-based health disparities and maternal child health, I decided to look further into the data on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

What we do know is that API women suffer from higher rates of certain negative maternal and child health outcomes than their white counterparts.

Read the rest here.


New column: Preparing for the trans baby boom

June 20, 2012

My latest column for RH Reality Check was published this week. An excerpt:

This shift in attention toward the issues facing trans and gender non-conforming pregnancy is indicative of a bigger shift overall — more and more trans and gender non-conforming people are giving birth. As Pati Garcia, a Los Angeles doula and midwife-in-training put it during our panel: “We’re on the cusp on a trans baby boom.”

Trans health as an overall field is still in its nascency. Our understanding of hormone therapies, gender reassignment surgeries, and much more is still being developed, so it’s no surprise that the field of pregnancy and parenting for trans people is also new and developing.

Within the needs of trans people in pregnancy and birth is the challenge of addressing what seems like an obvious connection: between pregnancy and femaleness. Trans people are often neglected in the arena of pregnancy and birth because of the strongly-held notion that only female-identified people experience pregnancy and birth. While not all trans people, whether they were assigned female at birth or not, can experience pregnancy (because of infertility or hysterectomy), some can and do, prompting the need for our pregnancy and birth providers to accommodate.

It’s not easy, as it’s a process that is intensely gendered. Everything from maternity clothes to the language of health care providers carries the assumption that the pregnant person identifies as female (and often that the other parent identifies as male). Language is an obvious barrier from the get-go: maternal health, pregnant women, all of the language associated with pregnancy and birth is gendered. From body parts to actors, all is coded in a way that would make a pregnant person who is not identified as a female feel uncomfortable.

Read the whole article here.

It was inspired by my panel at the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference, so big props to Pati Garcia (aka Chula Doula), Ryan Pryor, Abigail Fletcher and Lucia Leandro Gimeno, my co-panelists. It was an amazing conversation about trans and gender non-conforming centered midwifery and doula care. And the room was full! I love how many more people are focusing on these intersections, because there is much work to be done.


Are teen pregnancy prevention messages harming young parents?

May 6, 2011

In my latest article for Colorlines I examine what impact teen pregnancy prevent messages may be having on teens who end up parenting.

An excerpt

Teen pregnancy prevention initiatives are often based on the premise that teen parenting is an indisputably bad thing and should be avoided at all costs. And as a consequence, teen moms are constantly presented as failures and victims. “I love my life. I’m not gonna mess it up with a pregnancy,” says a teenager at the end of a video on the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unwanted Pregnancy’s website, Stayteen.org.

Prevention advocates point to the fact that teen parents have higher incidence of the range of problems public health works so hard to end. In a document targeting parents of teens, the National Campaign explains:

“Compared to women who delay childbearing, teen mothers are less likely to complete high school and more likely to end up on welfare. The children of teen mothers are at significantly increased risk of low birth-weight and prematurity, mental retardation, poverty, growing up without a father, welfare dependency, poor school performance, insufficient health care, inadequate parenting, and abuse and neglect.”

It’s a compelling formula—simply stop teen girls from having kids, and these disparities disappear. But the question that remains is what’s really behind these negative outcomes? Is young pregnancy and parenting the cause, or it a correlation with other risk factors, like socio-economic status and race, that recur at all ages?

I think it’s an important question because the Obama Administration has invested millions of dollars in these programs, while young parents are often not getting the support and services they need.

Read the whole thing here.


Celebrating Mama’s Day

May 4, 2011

This year I’m working with the folks at the Strong Families Initiative on their Mama’s Day campaign. Mama’s Day is about turning mother’s day around and focusing on the moms in our communities who often get left out of the celebrations, particularly young moms, immigrant moms, queer moms and low-income moms. Not only do these mamas often not get love on mother’s day–in today’s political climate, they get scapegoated and targeted.

As doulas, our work is just that: to provide love and support to all the mamas we work with, regardless of who they are or what phase of pregnancy they are in. That’s why I support this campaign.

We’ve also got a ton of blog posts from these Mama’s here, as well as some beautiful images like the one below to show your support to the mamas in your life.

Babies need love, Moms do too. Tell an immigrant mom, "I stand with you."

Check out the campaign on facebook and twitter to learn more.


Proof that anti-abortion laws hurt ALL pregnant women

March 7, 2011

We’re only just starting to see the impacts of new extreme anti-abortion legislation that has been passed around the country.

As I argue in this post, these laws also restrict the choices of women who want to parent. I’m going to try to keep an eye on the stories that highlight these connections because I think it busts open the myth that anti-choice activists are only focused on restricting abortion. They’re actually focused on restricting women’s autonomy in a myriad of ways related to pregnancy.

From Nebraska State Paper:

Nebraska’s new abortion law forced Danielle Deaver to live through ten excruciating days, waiting to give birth to a baby that she and her doctors knew would die minutes later, fighting for breath that would not come.

And that’s what happened. The one-pound, ten-ounce girl, Elizabeth, was born December 8th. Deaver and husband Robb watched, held and comforted the baby as it gasped for air, hoping she was not suffering. She died 15 minutes later.

The sponsor of the controversial Nebraska statute, Sen. Mike Flood of Norfolk, told the Des Moines Register that the law worked as it was intended in the Deavers’ case.

“Even in these situations where the baby has a terminal condition or there’s not much chance of surviving outside of the womb, my point has been and remains that is still a life,” Flood said in an interview with the Iowa newspaper.

The law, the only one of its kind in America, prohibits abortions after the 20th week. It is based on the disputed argument that a fetus may feel pain at that stage. It took effect last October.

These situations, while rare, do happen. Not all women, when faced with a fetus that is known not to be viable, would choose to terminate early. Some would want to carry the fetus to term, and spend that time in whatever way they choose.

The point is: she should have a choice. No one should be forced to carry an unviable fetus to term. No one should have lawmakers interfering with a medical decision that should be kept between the family and the medical providers.

“Our hands were tied,” Danielle Deaver of Grand Island told The Register in a story published Sunday.  “The outcome of my pregnancy, that choice was made by God. I feel like how to handle the end of my pregnancy, that choice should have been mine, and it wasn’t because of a law.”

Also, what kind of BS argument is that about fetal pain? For one thing, the research behind the idea of fetal pain is super sketchy. And for another, what about the suffering of this newborn as it died?

I’ll keep saying it over and over: anti-abortion laws don’t just hurt women who want to terminate their pregnancies. They also hurt women who want to parent.

h/t Mary M.


Victory in Kentucky: Fetuses cannot be legally disconnected from the pregnant woman carrying them

June 18, 2010

Via the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, some good news on the legal front:

I am thrilled to let you know that the Kentucky Supreme Court once again refused to advance the war on drugs to women’s wombs and made clear that pregnant women, no less than other persons, are protected by the rule of law. By refusing to accept the prosecution’s argument that the “unborn” should be legally disconnected from the pregnant women who carry them and treated as if they were separate legal persons, this decision protects the civil and reproductive rights and health of all women in Kentucky.

In this case, a pregnant woman was prosecuted in flagrant disregard for Kentucky law, embodied in its Maternal Health Act of 1992, and binding Kentucky Supreme Court precedent. NAPW worked extensively with the defendant’s talented public defenders (including Jamesa Drake, who presented a brilliant oral argument) and many treatment, recovery, and health allies in the commonwealth. NAPW, with attorneys Allison Harris of Shearman & Sterling and Kentucky Attorney Michael Goodwin, filed an amicus brief to highlight the negative public health consequences that would arise if drug-using women were to be punished for becoming mothers. Twenty-five public health organizations, advocates, and experts were represented on our brief (see list below) and more than sixty were represented as amici in the case. Today’s opinion reinforces the importance of Kentucky’s public health approach to the issues of drug use and pregnancy, and the fact that prosecutors should not be allowed to legally separate the fetus from the pregnant woman who carries and nurtures it.

Some of the scariest changes in laws regarding women, autonomy and pregnancy happen at the legal level, across the US. This is a big victory. Read the rest of NAPW’s post here.


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