Unveiled: Attack on Women’s Rights in the U.S.

April 29, 2011 by · Comments Off 

By Stephanie Brown
stephanieb@smu.edu

Panelists at Thursday's "Under Fire: Women's Rights in the U.S." program.

As students flocked to Moody Coliseum, Thursday, to attend Ke$ha’s “Get Sleazy” concert, others climbed the steps of Dallas Hall, filling McCord Auditorium to capacity. These students and members of the Dallas community were interested in participating in a different, more serious event; one that addressed an issue that is under attack in the United States and worldwide.

 

Women’s Rights.

The Embrey Family Foundation and Southern Methodist University’s Embrey Human Rights Program hosted the event entitled, “Under Fire: Women’s Rights in the U.S.” The event featured four panelists who spoke on different aspects pertaining to women’s rights.

Reverend Gary B. MacDonald, director of advanced ministerial studies at the SMU Perkins School of Theology, spoke first from a religious perspective regarding the conflicted liberty women face in dealing with abortion. In his lecture, MacDonald discussed the church and how they had a responsibility to initiate conversation regarding abortion and most importantly, teach that there is more than one way to view the issue from a Christian standpoint.

“We are supporters of women’s rights because we are people of faith,” MacDonald said.

Following MacDonald, the Director of Internal Legal Program for the Center for Reproductive Rights, Luisa Cabal, took the podium to examine the global trends on protecting the reproductive rights of women.

“Challenging times call for bold strategies to combat these problems,” she said.

Cabal focused on several case studies pertaining to countries across the world where women’s reproductive rights have been non-existent or restricted and how organizations such as hers are working to eradicate this problem. Cabal shared that progress that has been made in countries where women’s rights are limited or absent. She concluded by insisting it was imperative to fight for women’s reproductive rights in order to be considered a fundamental human right.

The next panelist, Kathy Miller, the Executive Director of the Texas Freedom Network, presented on sex education in Texas. Miller infused her lecture with statistics that awed her audience. She also presented one particular statistic conveying the results of a survey conducted by the Texas Freedom Network in 2009 that caused the audience to audibly demonstrate their disbelief.

“In a state where 87 percent of the voting population wants comprehensive sex education in schools, this survey showed that 94 percent of high schools in Texas are teaching an abstinence only policy until marriage,” said Miller.

After she encouraged the audience to write to representatives regarding two bills that are before the Texas Legislature, which require the comprehensive teaching of sex education in schools, she turned the podium over to the final panelist, Kelly Hart.

Serving as the Director of Public Affairs for Planned Parenthood of North Texas, Hart expanded on what Miller discussed in regard to issues before the Texas Legislature, such as the Sonogram Bill and funding for programs such as Planned Parenthood.

“It’s a slap in the face to women for the government to say we’re going to take health care specific to your needs and wipe it off the map,” Hart said in reference to Planned Parenthood’s fight for funding.

As Hart concluded her lecture, Dr. Rick Halperin, director of the Embrey Human Rights Program, opened the floor for questions. During the question and answer session, the ethical responsibility of physicians to society, the Sonogram Bill’s implications on women and whether the male should role in the abortion process were debated.

Halperin closed the lecture by asking the audience to consider an idea regarding the law and women’s rights.

“In most countries the law is made by men for a certain purpose,” he said. “Is the law used to protect people as a shield or is it a sword used to remove people from the law and attack others in the name of the law?”

Teen Pregnancy Numbers Decrease

March 22, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

By Nicole Jacobsen
njacobsen@smu.edu

In 2000, Texas had the fifth-highest teen pregnancy rate in the country, with 101 pregnancies for every 1,000 girls between 15 and 19 years old.

Five years later, according to the most recent report released by the Guttmacher Institute, the Lone Star State had the fourth-highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation, with 88 pregnancies for every 1,000 girls.

But while some states continue to struggle with high teen pregnancy and birth rates, the national average has decreased, due in large part to the economic downturn.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the birth rate among teenagers between 15 and 19 years old fell to 39.1 births per 1,000 teens in 2009, a six percent drop from the previous year. While many teenagers may not feel the effects of the economic recession first-hand, they are not immune to the higher levels of stress their parents are experiencing, and they understand that times are tougher than in years past.

The state of Texas has followed suit, but reduced numbers still have the state among the leaders in teen pregnancies and births. According to a 2007 United Nations report, Texas had the third-highest rate of teenage births with 64 babies being born for every 1,000 girls.

“The reason the rates generally are so high year after year in our state is due to a lack of comprehensive sexuality education, a decade of abstinence-only education in schools, lack of access to affordable birth control, poverty and some more complicated societal factors,” said Holly Morgan, Director of Media and Communications at Planned Parenthood of North Texas.

Texas also struggles to control the state’s birth rate. From 2003-05 the state fluctuated between being the top state and sharing the title with New Mexico as the leading state in teen births for girls 15 to 19. The Guttmacher Institute’s report now lists Texas with the third-highest teen birth rate, with 51,180 total births reported among 15 to 19 year olds in 2005.

Phylicia Jenkins found out she was pregnant when she was 18. In a two-year relationship at the time, Jenkins, now 21, admits that despite the pregnancy being unplanned, she was initially excited about the idea of raising a child.

“Although I love my baby to death, if I knew what I know now, I most likely wouldn’t have gotten pregnant,” Jenkins said. “I would have used every precaution to prevent it.”

Currently a student at the Dallas Nursing Institute, Jenkins, who is no longer in a relationship with the child’s father, works as a single parent, balancing the tasks of finishing school and raising her two-year-old daughter, Promyce.

“I think the hardest part about being a teen mom is balancing school and work and knowing that the baby is safe and being taken care of by someone who can be trusted,” Jenkins said. “Since most teens can’t afford daycare, being a teen mom also limits everything you can do as far as going out and hanging with friends whenever you want to.”

The state of Texas has stuck with an abstinence-only teaching method since 2004, but Jenkins says the schools are not doing enough to educate teenagers about teen pregnancy. During her time at Lake Highlands High School, Jenkins said she received some information about how to use condoms and prevent pregnancy, but not enough in-depth information was provided to really impact students.

“I wish there were more adults trying to save young ladies and also young men by teaching at schools and seminars about how to be safe and responsible,” Jenkins said. “[The schools] put sports and pep rallies before life skills. I don’t only blame schools, though, because parents should be a part of sex education as well.”

While some critics blame the schools, others believe shows like MTV’s “16 and Pregnant” are guilty of starting a new trend.

“Some girls may look at that show and think they could be on a reality show if they get pregnant,” Lauren Hardaway, 22, said. “It also may make it seem like everyone is getting pregnant so it shouldn’t be a big deal if they do too.”

According to The Wrap, a news and entertainment Web site owned by Maveron, the second-season premiere of “16 and Pregnant,” “delivered a series-best 3.4 million viewers, beating NBC’s Olympics coverage among women under 34 and ranking as the most-watched program on cable for the day.”

Hardaway, who became pregnant when she was 19, also believes reality television shows highlight the “true struggles of motherhood,” and can “prevent a lot of teen pregnancies out of fear of going through what those other teen moms had to go through.”

Morgan, who did not comment on topic of reality television, offered a different suggestion.

“Teens and adults alike need to know how to keep their bodies healthy, how to protect against and unwanted pregnancy, and how to avoid sexually transmitted infections,” Morgan said. “Without the knowledge and birth control, they cannot protect themselves and plan their reproductive lives.”