Pro-choice activism is largely synonymous with efforts to support access to safe and affordable abortion services, or the right to choose if, when, and how often (if ever) to carry a pregnancy to term. Given recent political theatrics in Congress surrounding reproductive rights in the US, it makes sense that ‘choice’ is on the defensive. Our government almost shut down over Planned Parenthood’s funding, for Pete’s sake. So yes, we know why choice = abortion access, because abortion access is threatened.
But being pro-choice is more than supporting access to safe and affordable abortion services. A comprehensive reproductive justice framework is undergirded by respect and support for diverse sexualities, including and especially young people’s sexualities and sexual rights.
In the US, we barely have the language to discuss youth sexuality at all, let alone what happens when young people, particularly young women, choose to become parents. Talking about young people’s sexuality is so taboo that the US still appropriates government funds ($25 million to be exact…) to abstinence-only programming. (WUT?)
What can we do about this taboo and the inherent impact of stigma on young parents? The three main paradigms for understanding youth sexuality – abstinence-only, pregnancy prevention, and youth empowerment – aren’t enough, and can actually entrench this stigma further.
This is why it’s timely for a fourth approach to youth sexuality to be emerging, one that has grown organically from the perspectives, desires, and needs of the young people most affected by the negativity that can come with these approaches, one that seeks to go beyond the question of youth sexuality itself and seeks to address how young people’s experiences are constructed.
The Sea Change Program, a Brooklyn-based organization working to transform the culture of reproductive stigma, has just released a paper, From Severe Stigma to Powerful Resilience: Youth Sexuality, Parenting, and the Power of Structural Support. The paper outlines the results of interviews with 14 experts in the field of resilience and support for young families, and offers a conceptual model of how stigma affects young parents.
The stigma experienced by young parents and young families is both wide and deep, impacting experiences and interactions in schools, health care settings, and within their families and communities. Internalized stigma has a longitudinal impact on young parents’ feelings about other parents and families, and about themselves and their futures.
While this stigma surrounding youth sexuality, young parents, and young families is deeply entrenched in social norms, this report offers a hopeful framework, garnering attention and clarity within a burgeoning reproductive justice movement in the US. Young parents and their allies are telling their stories, advocating for themselves, and building alliances. Efforts like this will make way for a new agenda that supports the health, rights, and well-being of young parents and their families.
Check out Sea Change Program on Twitter and Facebook and join them for a Tweet Chat on 27 Oct 2015 at 3:30pmEST at #YoungParentsKnow. It will be well worth watching this intersectional and intergenerational movement to support young families unfurl, with young parents at the helm.