I was planning to continue detailing my personal journey through birth control options, but due to recent Wisconsin news regarding barriers to reproductive health, I am taking this article in a slightly different direction.
On February 24th of this year, I watched Governor Jim Doyle sign the Healthy Youth Act into law (and I even got my picture taken with him!). This new law mandates that public school teachers provide students with age-appropriate, evidence-based sex education. It requires that the curriculum be comprehensive for each age and stage of development, presenting tools that allow parents, students and teachers to engage in conversations on a variety of important topics: human anatomy and growth, sexual activity, contraceptive options, and healthy choices, among others. (Read more about the law here: http://www.ppawi.org/sexed)
So far, so good!
Unfortunately, in central Wisconsin’s Juneau County, District Attorney Scott Southworth is taking steps to overturn the benefits of this law, restricting students’ access to medically accurate reproductive health information. On April 6 the DA sent a memo to teachers in five districts, possibly falsely informing them that if they teach their students about contraceptives, (rather than simply teaching abstinence as they did before passage of the Healthy Youth Act), they will be prosecuted for “contributing to the delinquency of a child.” Yikes.
Southworth’s faulty logic assumes that including information about contraception in the classroom encourages sexual behavior. He equates education to aiding a crime, (sex between minors) and accuses teachers of causing higher rates of sexual assault. Newsflash for Mr. Southworth – education doesn’t lead to pregnancy, lack of contraception does!
Using what I believe are underhanded intimidation tactics, this DA is hoping to scare teachers into breaking the law and returning to ineffective abstinence-only education. Recent studies show that abstinence-only instruction is actually positively correlated with higher rates of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection. Conversely, the comprehensive instruction approach indicated in the Healthy Youth Act leads to a better informed, more empowered population, less likely to make unhealthy choices.
Southworth is threatening to arrest teachers for trying to eradicate ignorance, prevent unwanted pregnancy and follow the law. Yikes again!
At this point, you might be thinking "So what? A Wisconsin lawyer is throwing out questionable accusations and getting spotlight time in the press. How does that affect women’s health?"
Health is not simply medical diagnoses, but social awareness, personal activation and the right to information. Southworth is attacking everything we, as empowered citizens believe! Juneau County may be only one area, but it is representative of every struggle for access to reproductive justice across the nation. Let's use this event as a reminder that our work towards obtaining health care and information rights isn’t finished. Contraceptives and teachers aren’t the criminals, Southworth, and institutionalized ignorance is.