This guest post is by NARAL Pro-Choice Washington supporter Valerie Tarico.
Pregnant and obese, with rotten teeth? Seattle is leading the way on teen pregnancy prevention, but if conservative commentators had their druthers, sexually active Seattle teens would get Coca-Cola instead of contraceptives.
In King County, an innovative public-private partnership brings adolescent health services to youth where they are—in schools. Healthcare systems like Swedish, Group Health, and Neighborcare operate small clinics right on campus in Seattle high schools. These clinics provide outpatient adolescent medicine services, including vaccinations and mental and sexual health services.
Since one of the primary reasons girls drop out of high school is pregnancy, onsite clinics in Seattle high schools have long included family planning services, and Washington voters have long defended teen access to this vital health care, whether young people have supportive parental adults they can turn to for help or not.
Since 2010, a model program developed by Neighborcare Health and adopted by other primary care providers has applied “medical best practices” shown in Missouri and Colorado to dramatically decrease teen pregnancy. This includes onsite provision of top-tier “fit and forget” contraceptives–IUDs and implants that are endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC as the most effective form of contraception for sexually active teens.
Even responsible teens find it hard to use every-day or every-time birth control perfectly. So do adults. Thanks in part to inconsistent Pill use, almost 1 out of every 10 women on the Pill gets pregnant each year, as compared with 1 in 500 for the least effective IUD! That’s why, when Colorado made IUD’s and implants widely available and free, the teen pregnancy rate dropped by 40 percent.
But conservatives in Colorado have killed funding for that program, and if they could, they would kill Seattle’s teen pregnancy prevention services as well. Conservative outlets including Fox and Breitbart launched a media assault when they learned that Seattle youth can receive top tier contraceptives with or without parental involvement. In unison, they depicted mythical 11-year-old 6th graders sneaking behind the backs of their otherwise doting parents to get “dangerous” IUDs, “gynecological procedures” and “invasive contraceptives” from unqualified government bureaucrats. They complained that young people could get reproductive healthcare on campus but not Coca-cola or other sugary soft drinks. And social media lit up with a chorus of horrified screeching.
In reality, the highly trained professionals in Seattle’s school-based clinics include parents in conversations and care where possible. Clinicians routinely ask students if they have told their parents about a visit, when they think they might tell their parents, and how the clinic can support them in that process, even facilitating family discussions.
But in the right-wing assault on Seattle care providers and teens, reality matters little. Conservative commentators don’t appear to care that their mascot, the 11-year-old IUD seeker, is fictitious. Nor do they care that real teens who do exist have received the best family planning care available, stacking the odds in favor of their education, their dreams, and their future families.
America’s epidemic of teen moms mired in poverty is no accident. In state after state, conservative politicians in the thrall of the Religious Right have obstructed or destroyed programs that drive down the number of unplanned pregnancies. I, for one, am proud to live in Washington, where we take care of our teens, and am grateful for brave nonprofits like Neighborcare that forge ahead to provide the state-of-the-art care even at the risk of a reactionary feeding frenzy like the one that erupted on Fox this week. Launching healthy young adults takes a village, and here in Washington, taxpayers and parents and neighbors and educators and clinicians together form the village that helps young people to care for themselves and graduate and pursue their dreams.
Every session, conservatives in Olympia try to take away the ability of teens to seek reproductive care independently, and NARAL has to organize a defense. Our work is never done. Thank you for making it possible, and please help us keep our work going by contributing what you can to NARAL Pro-Choice Washington today.