In Pakistan, the Taliban tries to keep girls uneducated and sexually repressed with beatings and bullets. In America, congress does the same thing with money. Today, abstinence only sex education and the lives it destroys, are On Our Radar.
They asked for Malala by name before one of them shot her in the head. That is what the press reported about the horrific incident in Mingora, Pakistan, that has incensed the world. Taliban religious zealots boasted of targeting Malala Yousufzai, a 14-year-old Pakistani activist, who made a name for herself advocating for girls to go to school. In Pakistan’s Swat Valley, men with guns and whips and acid punish girls for the crime of wanting to educate themselves.
I suspect that most of you reading On Our Radar today will agree that 14-year-old Malala is a child. Perhaps you will say “adolescent,” but by no stretch of the imagination do we consider Malala an adult. Few people will make the judgment that Malala, at 14, carries any responsibility for what happened to her because she was “old enough to know what she was getting into.” We would find such an attitude uninformed, insensitive, perhaps bordering on cruel.
Remember how you feel now about Malala’s age and level of responsibility for her actions, it will be important later.
In America men don’t use violence to keep girls from being educated; they use money. This week, the very week Malala was shot for her insistence that women deserve to be educated, Orin Hatch, a Mormon Senator from Utah, got his five million dollar wish to make sure some 14-year-old American girls aren’t educated either. Against a backdrop of exploding deficits, with our lawmakers unable to name a single program worthy of being cut, the Department of Health and Human Services, which didn’t ask for, and didn’t want the money, awarded grants worth a total of five million taxpayer dollars to fund abstinence only sex “education” programs.
To be clear, there is nothing educational about the abstinence agenda. It is a concerted effort to stop teens from having sex by keeping them uneducated about their own bodies, and by pressuring them to publicly take a celibacy pledge, which has the unfortunate result of making a sexual target out of any girl who doesn’t sign up. A friend of mine who was subjected to an abstinence class in her youth, told me the graphic they used to demonstrate the female anatomy did not even include a depiction of the clitoris – a rather important part of the female body. I found her experience the perfect metaphor for the prudish (or is it prurient?) agenda of men like Senator Hatch. Middle Eastern religious men demand a young girl’s clitoris be surgically removed. America religious men demand all knowledge of the clitoris be kept secret. It’s worth taking notice that in both cases, these bizarre decisions are made by men, to “protect” women from their sexual selves.
Unfortunately, the existence of the clitoris is not the only important information missing from the abstinence course. Teens learn nothing about how to prevent pregnancy; not about oral contraception, or the “day after” pill, not IUDs, not condoms, not even that throwback to the 50s, the rhythm method. Teens aren’t taught how to protect themselves from STDs, about what the symptoms are, or where to go for help if they think they might have one. There is no mention at all about a woman’s right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, or her options for an open or closed adoption, nor are girls told that most states have safe haven laws that allow mothers to surrender their newborn at a church or a hospital, no questions asked. And if an LGBTQ kid has feelings they are confused about? Forget even a referral to a professional they can talk to, much less understanding or reassurance.
In his 8 years in office President Bush spent a total of 1.8 billion (yes, billion with a “b”) taxpayer dollars on the abstinence programs he called an “urgent goal”. Senator Obama voted against the Bush abstinence program. President Obama zeroed it out of his 2009 budget, but during the healthcare negotiations he agreed to reopen the program in return for Senator Hatch’s support on another portion of the Affordable Care Act. This week, the senator got his payoff. You can bet your 401K that because of Senator Hatch, somewhere in America, a 14-year old girl won’t be given enough information to know how to protect herself from becoming pregnant, and will trade her bright future for insurmountable tragedy. The side of me prone to dark comedy wants to call them the Hatch Acts.
Cassidy Goodson of Lakeland, Florida, is an excellent example of just how inevitable and preventable these “Hatch Acts” are. Cassidy is 14 years old, the same age as Malala, the girl who was shot in Pakistan. Cassidy committed the age-old “sin” of getting pregnant, and then, afraid to admit her mistake, she hid the pregnancy from her family. Twice her mother forced her to take a pregnancy test, and twice she faked a negative result rather than admit the truth. Last month, Cassidy gave birth to a nine pound baby boy over the toilet in her bathroom, biting down on a washcloth to hide her screams. She told police she used a pair of scissors to pry the baby out of her, and then smothered the infant and hid his body in a shoebox in her room.
Last week a Polk County grand jury indicted Cassidy for first degree murder and aggravated child abuse. Prosecutors say they will prosecute the 14-year old as an adult. If convicted, she could spend the rest of her life in prison.
This is the part where I ask you to think about what makes 14-year-old Malala a child, and 14-year-old Cassidy an adult.
An easier question might be what you think society, and by society I mean Orin Hatch, owes to the future Cassidy Goodsons by way of information about sex? It’s very hard to think about Cassidy and conclude abstinence education is a good idea. It doesn’t even seem fair. If we are going to demand 14-year-olds take responsibility for their actions as adults, shouldn’t we be obliged to give them better information about sex than “sign this pledge” and keep an aspirin between your knees?
I am sure it won’t surprise you that Mitt Romney is on record as being in favor of abstinence only education. Then again, Mormons do value unwed teenage mothers more than childless career women. (Would I kid about that?) Women need to take notice, and since LGBTQ teens are also being shortchanged, the gay community also has an interest in ending the right wing’s abstinence agenda once and for all. We owe it to all of our 14-year-old little sisters, and little brothers too, to make sure that five million doesn’t become fifty million, or five hundred million plus, as it did under President Bush. The more money they spend, the more lives they destroy.
Because being a teen is hard enough; we don’t need to put hurdles in their way. And because no 14-year-old has the experience to reason like an adult, today, abstinence only sex education and the lives it destroys, are On Our Radar.
Teen Photo via freedigitalphotos.net