Yes, it’s true. America has the highest rates of births to teenage mothers (even though it’s lowered since 1990). Our number is so high it’s double that of the next highest country—the United Kingdom (including Ireland). Babies having babies is a problem, it’s true. However, I’m not so sure critics and politicians are so worried about rampant immorality, the hardships of a single teen mother, or the effects of fatherlessness as they are worried about women’s sexual agency.
Let me explain.
Republicans claim to have family values, they claim to be worried about unintended pregnancies, but last year they tried to get rid of Planned Parenthood and Title X. Both of these provide millions of women with birth control, healthcare, and lifesaving screenings for breast and cervical cancer. Planned Parenthood goes further, providing contraceptives, family planning, HIV testing, STD preventatives and treatment, general/men/women healthcare, LGBT services, and yes, sometimes abortions or morning after pills. Republicans claim that it’s the abortion thing that has them running after Planned Parenthood like rabid dogs, but in Texas they sued clinics that didn’t even provide abortions.
What’s more, efforts to “stop” teen motherhood have included things like increasing restrictions on access to birth control and even birth control information. How in the world are teens not supposed to get pregnant if we don’t teach them how to protect themselves? Teens are going to have sex whether you like it or not. We need to accept this undeniable, unpreventable truth, and prepare them to handle themselves, not keep them in the dark and cross our fingers that nothing bad happens. Clearly, that isn’t working. I have a friend who didn’t know what birth control pills were until her college health class.
We all have a different way of looking at the world. I, a white, female college student born in 1991, don’t see the world the same way Bill my neighbor would, who is a war veteran. Because the overwhelming majority of politicians are white middle-aged males and of a high socioeconomic status, the way they perceive the world is not the same as how a poor young black mother sees the world, or how a widowed Asian-American woman sees the world. And how could they? They live in completely different realities.
However, the power through which the politicians, the elite white males, operate creates dominance over everyone else, and oppresses those who do not share their unique view. The lack of diversity in Congress creates a very narrow view of the world. The eras that those politicians grew up in affect their values and what they think is “valuable”, which may not be in the best interest of women. Apparently, this is the case. Because, the real problem here is not teenage pregnancy, but unwed mothers. Only 20% of babies born to single mothers are teenagers. 60% are unwed mothers, women between the ages of 20 and 30 years that are raising a child. This seems to be the real issue here. Women nowadays are more sexually active, and Planned Parenthood provides women with the knowledge and tools to control their own health and sexuality.
But also, the other problem of “babies having babies” is it can be a way to blame women for men’s irresponsibility. Politically, we are saying to young women if they are going to dance, they will have to pay the piper. (Although, we all know it takes two to tango.)
What do all these horrible cliches mean? The way we’re dealing with this problem is as useless and old as this language. Maybe the answer to this problem is we need to increase the abilities of young women to become responsible (health care, birth control, knowledge), and to foster a more responsible young manhood.