Celebrating young mamas who need support

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Reposted from Ms. blog

by Veronica Bayetti Flores

Amidst the celebrations of motherhood we see throughout the month of May, there are many kinds of mothers who are left out of the Hallmark picture. A good number of mothers are not only left out, but actively demonized – even by our supposed allies.

Among these reviled mamas, young mothers figure prominently. While most mothers are celebrating May as a month dedicated to them, young moms have the dubious distinction of having May be a month dedicated to ending their experience altogether: May is also Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month.

Now, let’s be clear – many of the initiatives of teen pregnancy prevention advocates are ones that deserve full support. Comprehensive sexuality education and access to birth control methods, for example, are crucial for young people. But a key problem with teen pregnancy prevention approaches is that the impetus for supporting these otherwise valuable programs is based on the decision by a group of powerful people that young women must not be mothers. The decision of a powerful group (adults) to work to limit the reproduction of a less powerful group (youth) can in no way be construed as falling into line with reproductive justice principles of supporting women in deciding when and whether to have children, and to parent the children they do have with dignity.

It’s true that many young women – maybe even most – do not plan their pregnancies, and become pregnant when they may not have wanted to. This is, indeed a problem, but it requires the reproductive health and justice community to take a look at larger systems that shut out young women of color, low-income young women, and immigrant young women from receiving the information and material resources to prevent pregnancy when they want to, or systems that shut these same young women out of educational opportunities for which they might choose to delay starting families.

Because young Latina and immigrant women have higher rates of teen birth than white girls, they are the targets of much anti-teen pregnancy programming – very little of which deals with the real and material barriers young women face in their lives. Latinas are disproportionately poor, which means they are less likely to be able to afford health insurance and the birth control they need to prevent pregnancy if that is what they want to do. They are less likely to be able to afford the full cost of an abortion – an issue most teen pregnancy prevention organizations will not touch – if they want to terminate their pregnancy. They are less likely to be able to afford the cost of higher education, even if they decide to wait to have children. In short, there are systematic issues at work, and reproductive health advocates need to remove barriers to young women being able to make the choices that are best for them and support them in those choices – not tell them what their choices should be.

We need to support sex education and access to birth control as part of a platform that gives all women – young women included – a real choice about whether and when to start their families. We need to support young women who become pregnant and choose to terminate their pregnancies by eliminating the Hyde amendment, which bans federal funding for abortion and means that many Medicaid-eligible young women are unable to get their procedure covered. We need to have the hard conversations around child sexual abuse that are completely ignored in mainstream conversations about teen pregnancy. And finally, we need to support young women who choose to parent by providing them with the resources they need to parent with dignity and to have as much opportunity to succeed as a young woman who chooses to delay pregnancy.

Targeting young mothers as a problem is not only morally lacking, but it’s ineffective, and not the real problem. Instead, we must target inequity - let’s be done with the shaming and the stigma. Any less is not reproductive justice.

VerĂ³nica Bayetti Flores has worked on immigrants rights, reproductive justice, and other social justice issues in Wisconsin and New York, and has recently moved her life and activism to Austin, TX. She is a Policy Research Specialist at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, and sits on the boards of the National Coalition for LGBT Health and the National Network of Abortion Funds.

This blog is part of Strong Families' Mama’s Day Our Way blog series. Make and send a custom Mama’s Day e-card at www.mamasday.org. Strong Families is a national initiative led by Forward Together. Our goal is to change the way people think, act, and talk about families.